School Board Division Deepens as Building Contract Nears

CCSchools - DGCooley 1At least one Clarke County School Board member isn’t sure that other members have been doing their required reading. Quoting from “The Essential School Board Book: Better Governance in the Age of Accountability,” a professional development text book that the School Board has been collectively reading in hopes of improving it governance processes, Stefani Bell, the Board’s student representative, characterized successful school boards as embracing shared leadership roles and fostering open dialogue on issues.

Bell publicly urged the Board to follow the book’s advice going forward by taking a more supportive approach with each other’s viewpoint. Quoting the text Bell said that strong school board leadership will result in a strong school system. “There have been too many 3-2 votes here and that sends the wrong message to the community.” Bell went on to say, “Allowing a minority of citizens to force their views on the School Board wears teachers down. Teachers used their best judgment to select books that they thought were best for students but the minority was able to get the books changed. This may not be sending the best message to our teachers.”

Bell’s message of unity came too late to salvage the night’s Construction Committee meeting however. With the opening bell allegations were traded between Chairperson Robina Bouffault (White Post) and School Board members Jennifer Welliver (Berryville) and Janet Alger (Russell) regarding a motion to appoint Bouffault as the School Board’s “owner’s agent” for overseeing the school construction contract.

Welliver cited past instances where she believed Bouffault acted independently without the Board’s approval and withheld information from the other members of the School Board. “The chairperson is already contacting engineers and construction staff. We’ve gotten bad information from her in the past and she has purposely and blatantly withheld information that caused bad relationships with other government organizations including Berryville. Robina has never acknowledged that she has ever done anything wrong before. I just don’t want to go back there. We need legal advice before we enact anything.” Janet Alger concurred, “Appointing a single board member to oversee the contracts and staff places too much power in the hands of one person. I feel strongly that we need to hire someone to do this.”

Bouffault countered that she was being accused falsely in public to the detriment of the School Board. “You’re fabricating and twisting the truth with partial documentation which is false. It’s not a question of power,” Bouffault said, “We need to keep forward movement if we’re ever going to get the school done.”

Welliver and Alger asserted that Bouffault is ineligible to act as the School Board’s “owner’s agent” because only a school employee can fill such a position according to Virginia’s school board authorization legislation. Bouffault contended that School Board Superintendent Dr. Michael Murphy is the only school employee who could fill the oversight position but that Murphy is too busy with budget matters to spare the additional 20 hours per week that the job will require. Bouffault said that she was the only other person qualified to handle the task.

Dr. Murphy added weight to Welliver’s and Alger’s position citing a case note from Pleasants v. Commonwealth of Virginia. He counseled the Board about the legality of appointing a Board member to oversee construction contracts. “I caution the Board that this may be in violation of case law. This is not a good thing to do,” Murphy warned. In Pleasants v. Commonwealth of Virginia the court defined school employees, such as a school principal or superintendent, as the duly authorized representative of the school board responsible for administration and supervision of the school or schools and the property to which the employee has been assigned.

School Board member Barbara Lee (Millwood) attempted to offer a conciliatory solution that was ultimately rejected by Alger and Welliver. Lee proposed a series of constraints on Bouffault’s operational latitude in the event that the School Board approved her as its owner’s agent. Lee’s motion required that Bouffault notify the School Board in advance of any meetings that are conducted with construction staff, have at least one other School Board member present at all meetings, and post all meeting minutes within 12 hours after completion of a meeting. “Robina is the best choice for this job because she has the time and experience to do it. She’s nit-picky when it comes to contracts and that’s what we need,” Lee said.

Jennifer Welliver rejected Lee’s motion in principle. “It is simply inappropriate and unprecedented for one school district’s representative to wield so much power in the process.”

The School Board went on to approve the motion appointing Bouffault as the Board’s owner-agent in a split decision with Welliver and Alger voting against.

While Student Represenative Bell’s admonition for greater School Board solidarity could not have come at a better time, not everyone present at the meeting agreed with her characterization of the School Board bowing to the demands of a “small minority” of citizens with regard to the school reading list. Vicky Trapnell of Berryville said, “We presented the School Board with a petition of 70 signatures that supported removal of controversial titles from the curriculum. We’re pleased with the result of the process so far and will wait and see if other steps need to happen in the future. We believe that most people in Clarke County would not approve of the material in the texts if they knew what was there.


  1. Jim Gibson says:

    First, giving Robina this much authority is risky beyond measure. She and Phil Embury and Emily Rhodes nearly violated sunshine meeting laws her last go-round when they offered John Taylor a contract before they were even sworn in. She led the charge to purchase a set of school plans that are woefully inadequate for the school this community needs. A town councilman beat her at her own game by releasing emails that proved she was talking out of both sides of her mouth.

    Second, to do so in the face of established case law is ludicrous. It can’t help but be viewed as a power grab by Robina with Barbara’s and Emily’s blessing.

    Third, 70 signatures on a petition is fine – but ignores the fact that an existing policy for reconsidering a book was ignored. Policies and procedures exist for a reason, and to willfully ignore them – or use different means to bully one’s way around them – makes them of none effect. To tritely say that “other parents would object if they knew what was in them” is a broad stroke that is not entirely accurate.

    Clarke County remains a fractious place to live. How sad for the children.

    • Parent Reader says:

      I see that you state, “70 signatures on a petition is fine – but ignores the fact that an existing policy for reconsidering a book was ignored. ” Could you please elaborate on that policy? Perhaps you could point us in the direction where we might find this in the school system.

      • Jim Gibson says:

        The policy (6-9:

        The policy stated that, should a parent or other individual have a complaint about a certain book or other material, a Request for Reconsideration process would begin. A form would be completed, and the appropriate building administrator would pull together a committee to review the book/material and the complaint. A decision one way or the other would be made. If the complainant was not satisfied, then the next step would be with the division superintendent, then ultimately the School Board.

        Again, gathering signatures is all fine, but when policy is not followed (or a vocal number clamors for the attention of the School Board members regardless), where does that leave us?

  2. I’m disappointed in the youth of today if the SB Student representative feels that a group of parents exercising their rights is undemocratic and a “minority” view. I thought she would feel that she had witnessed democracy in action. That’s the genius to our form of government – if you don’t like something, you can change it. BTW, there is NOTHING stopping her from gathering her own petition and having the previous decision overturned.

    Furthermore, there is nothing wrong with a 3-2 vote or a series of them. The SB is at a critical crossroads on a number of items – leadership, budget, buildings, etc.. It’s still a majority. If you want unanimous decisions, take a look at totalitarian nations – not democracies.

    Now, what’s really funny is the SB employing qualified counsel and not using it to determine their exposure by having RRB as the owner’s agent. That was just dumb, no matter how you feel about their decision.

    • Jim Gibson says:

      I agree with the last part of your comment. It was awfully shortsighted to enable RRB to potentially wield so much power.

      The problem with the petition is that it, and the associated bruhaha, swamped a policy and procedure already in place. Attention was diverted onto tweaking the policy, and onto two books that are part of a selection fo titles prescribed by an international organization. The gripe is with the way it was all handled, from the parent letter read into the public record at a School Board meeting up to this final decision. Democratic? Perhaps. But, the School Board is empowered to craft policies and procedures to follow to handle such an issue.

      This also raises another question – do the parents who rose up to have these two titles banned also police the iPod song lists their kids listen to, the movies and TV shows they see, etc.?

      • Concerned Parent says:

        Yes [redacted text]….we do “police”, “censor”, “ban” certain songs, movies, shows from our home. It is called teaching our kids to live within moral boundaries, but you may call it what you will.

        The “policy”, as is, only serves the administration (the state) not the parents. It only seems to protect the administration’s “rights” rather than the parent’s. As far as I remember, we do still live in America where majority rules. If you want differently, there are other countries that will offer you the totalitarian (stick to policy) government that you so desire. Sometimes, policies can be badly worded and need revision. It is my job and right to censor. Every person practices censorship for him/herself and/or the family. For goodness sakes, movies and tv shows are rated; why is this an issue with books? Everyone still has the freedom to read this book! Go get it from the store and/or library! Read them as bedtime stories to your kids! But don’t try to require my child to read it, because now, you are stepping on my rights/freedom!

        “Liberty cannot be established without morality”…our American “liberties” were established assuming basic morality would be practiced.

        • Tony Parrott says:

          Concerned parent, I respect your right to determine what is right for you and yours. I assume you respect my right too because what’s acceptable to you may not be for me and vice versa. Meanwhile we are still talking about “books” that are no longer going to be required reading our schools are in financial distress and the system is on the verge of a hostile takeover.
          My question is what are the citizens of Clarke County going to do about it? If you are happy with Robina running the school system top to bottom then say nothing. I intend to fight because my children, your children and our schools are worth it.

        • Jim Gibson says:

          Your child had an opt-out choice; my understanding is that the IB organization wouldn’t acknowedge the opt-out choice and thus would not award credit. That is unfortunate.

          Certainly, you have the right to have your child not read a book. You also have the right to question its vailidity or appropriateness. However, following policy is not “totalitarian,” so don’t tritely dismiss it as such. After all, every 4 years we in America follow a policy called elections. Every 10 years a policy is followed for the census. We follow a policy to pay our taxes, register our vehicles, and so forth. Policies, though not infallible, do allow civilized society to function. In the case of these books, given the emotional aspect of the matter, it all the more important TO follow the policies in place, to avoid even the appearance of knee-jerk reactions and to enable cogent discussion of the books’ merits (or lack thereof).

          Do not presume that, because the majority of the folks you hang around with agree with you, that you speak for all 14,000 citizens of Clarke County.

          • Bond, James Bond says:

            Where should I begin? First, the yet to be empanelled School Board in 2007 did not offer John Taylor a contract because they did not have the authority to do so. If they offered a commitment to hire him once they were sworn in and took office, that is another thing. If Mr. Taylor decided to quit his job at Powhatan as a result of that discussion, it sounds like a personal decision to me. The Virginia Attorney General has already offered an opinion that validates that only one School Board exists at any one time and intentions do not equate to official actions.

            Second, the claim that 70 signatures on a petition to remove objectionable reading material is a “minority” of like-minded people hanging out together is ludicrous. The claim implies that Clarke County was canvassed in its entirety to obtain the 70 signatures. This is not true. Actually, multiple neighborhood streets in Berryville were polled and 70 respondents signed the petition with NO refusals. These respondents represent a typical cross section of the citizens of Berryville and were not preselected in any way. Anyone with even a mild appreciation of sampling theory should take note of the results.

            Third, the current policy on reading materials that Mr. Gibson clings to is a product of the school system, and as practiced, only protects the school system. The objections to specific reading materials have been shunted into oblivion by the administration offering an alternative book, without any discussion of its merits to the educational program. The response to objecting parents is “Here’s your placebo and my work here is now done.” The current policy merely sweeps the question under the rug and does nothing to resolve whether the works are appropriate or not.

            For the past several years, The Color Purple and The Handmaid’s Tale have been an integral part of the English IB/Dual Enrollment program at Clarke County High School. Of the over 440 books that are on the IBO approved reading list, are these the only ones of this particular genre that our teachers are capable of teaching? Is the English Department so entranced with these works that they cannot teach anything else? Is this the creative atmosphere that IB purports to offer? I have heard from present and former students that the English Department has some super teachers. If that is the case, why do they choose to play with Kryptonite?

          • My point [redacted text] is that there was a policy in place. If said policy was not followed, by any vested party (by concerned parents in bringing a request to reconsider a book on its merits OR by school administrators in not following said policy and truly examining the book via the committee of teachers and parents it called for), then that is an unfortunate occurrence.

            The policy “is a product of the school system” because it is based on state code, best practices, and recommendations from the ALA and other sources. What it’s designed to do is prevent knee-jerk responses to a book under question (which can result in a spontaneous removal of a book from a curriculum or a collection without proper discussion of its merits). The CIMC, eventually, did just this, but not after a lot of demonizing of the teachers in the CCHS English department by several of the signers of that petition. When emotion is not checked at the door, to allow a discussion of the books to be objective, it suggests a level of distrust in the trained professionals who educate our students every day.

          • Concerned Parent says:

            “Demonizing” the teachers? Really? Could you elaborate on this please?

            Distrust? Yes….a problem that has only been brought on by “our trained professionals” overstepping boundaries. Do you think it is ever possible for those in authority to take advantage of their roles and overstep their boundaries?

            It seems to me that you would like for us to just trust the existing system, but what happens if the existing system is flawed? Should we, the people, have recourse? You seem to think, “no”, we should just leave it to the “trained professionals”/leaders and keep quiet.

          • When folks rail against the school, and the English Department in particular, that is “demonizing” them.

            “Our trained professionals” do not overstep their boundaries. Of course parents should have the means to address concerns, question a book, or whatever. That was entirely my point – there was a means to do that. There is now. At no point did I advocate that anyone “keep quiet.”

            At the same time, the world is larger than any of us individually may want to think it is, with a host of issues out there that we might not think our children are ready for. We are the judges of what our own children might be ready for, or not ready for. Still…if we’ve done our job at home, would that not make our kids MORE equipped to consider other aspects of the issues, and make a more informed judgement about them?

            Shakespeare contains analogies, imagery, and laguage every bit as bawdy, crass, and graphic as anything in the books in question, yet “Macbeth” and “Romeo & Juliet” other plays are read. “Huck Finn” drops the n-word a few hundred times, and this book gets slammed time and again. Yet, in 1850s Missouri, this was entirely how folks of a certain stripe spoke; it’s history. Do these works offer learning opportunities that remain pertinent for today? Sure they do. Do other works also offer these same opportunities without some of the “negatives” – sure.

            The point is this – parents do have input, and should have input, and “recourse.” That’s why the “opt out” proviso was intended for. If the IB program wouldn’t acknolwedge that and would withhold credits or whatever, that is a different and unfortunate matter. But to question teachers as purveyors of filth or assume that they are “not creative enough” to teach a different work or are looking to “step on a parent’s rights/responsibilities” is not accurate, and creates negativity where none needed to be introduced to have a discussion on a book’s merits.

          • The Avon Lady says:

            I am responding to Jim Gibson’s comment relating to Shakespeare’s analogies, imagery, and language that are “every bit as bawdy, crass, and graphic as anything in the books in question” – “The Color Purple” and “The Handmaid’s Tale”, “yet “Macbeth” and “Romeo and Juliet” other plays are read.”. I beg to differ with Jim Gibson’s allusions to the content of Shakespeare’s plays. None of Shakespeare’s works contain gratuitous amounts of sex, violence, or vulgarity; indeed, “Macbeth” and “Romeo and Juliet” do not contain any words or phrases which even the most protective parents would find objectionable. It is true that Shakespeare’s works are centered around serious subjects such as love, violence and murder, and family relationships in crisis. However, Shakespeare’s characters do not go through sexually-charged, vulgar, and morally repugnant storylines in order to describe these serious life lessons. The language used by Shakespeare was most certainly not “crass”. It is unfortunate that anyone would compare Shakespeare’s works to the two books being challenged. It is these books that contain the pervasive use of graphic analogies, sexual imagery, and profane language, not Shakespeare’s works. Indeed, I would commend the English teachers at the High School for choosing to teach Shakespeare’s works in all grades from 9th through 12th – “Romeo and Juliet” and “The Merchant of Venice” in 9th, “Macbeth” in 10th, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “King Lear” in 11th, and “Macbeth” in 12th grade. Shakespeare’s works should be one of the essential foundations of a sound literature education within the high school English curriculum, and I am relieved to find that our high school is choosing to include these timeless works of literature.

  3. Tony Parrott says:

    Two problems with Robina having this level of control and power: Liability and Representation.
    The legal liability to the county tax payer is staggering. In two years she has been the spear head of two legal actions both costing the tax payers money. Currently a $10.5 million civil rights violation is hanging over the taxpayers head and win, lose or draw we will pay! The question is how much more will she cost us?
    Representation is another major concern. The school board is a governing BODY and are supposed to be representing their constituents. I believe the ones who voted to give unprecedented power to Robina are derelict of duty and shunning their obligation/responsibility to their constituents. Now Barbra and Emily will say they can keep Robina in line but what they don’t know is they are the puppets, not the puppet master. NO ONE controls Robina.
    The governing body is supposed to delegate its authority to the superintendant so he/she can run the school district. Robina stated Mondy night that the superintendant has too much on his plate to worry about construction; he has a budget to do. That’s exactly the kind of excuse a controlling micromanager would use to grab power. Let’s face it, I haven’t seen a year yet (before or after her election) that Robina didn’t have a school budget ready and waiting in her back pocket. I would feel better if she would just admit her addiction to power and control.
    Now what people should take notice in is that Robina controls the Chair of the board, finance, policy and now construction. Now ask yourself, is that too much power for someone like her? Amazing what one vote can get you.

    • ann alderman says:

      Thank you Tony, you are so right on target. Speaking of budget and finance, just wait…For those who fell for the “I like Mike” line (or any of the rest of it) time is telling…If you like your schools and your school administration, now is the time to stand up for them.

  4. R. Rogers says:

    Regardless of any allegations or opinions pertaining to Ms. Bouffault, it does not seem balanced in power or judgment to allow one board member out of five to assume so many responsibilities at once.

  5. Tony Parrott says:

    [Redacted text] and [redacted text], what are you really after? As I see it we both have a process in place that allows us to opt out of a book if we wish. So my question is still “what are you after”?

    As a side note: One of the down falls of the internet (to me) is it allows people to say whatever they want and hide behind an assumed name. I feel if you take ownership of your comments you are less likely to come off the wrong way. As mama always said “don’t say anything behind someone’s back that you wouldn’t say to their face”. That’s ownership baby!