The Clarke County School Board’s first session of 2010 was packed with citizens despite the cold temperature on Monday night. Many citizens spoke in opposition to several books being used in the International Baccalaureate instructional program. The School Board also elected its leadership for the coming year and developed a tentative schedule for moving forward with the new high school.
Robina Bouffault was elected chairperson but not before protest by two opposing board members set the tone for the evening. Prior to the vote to elect a chairperson board member Janet Alger distributed copies of Bouffault’s resignation as school board chairman during the previous term and expressed concerns about leadership stability going forward should Bouffault be elected. Jennifer Welliver then critiqued Bouffault’s leadership style describing Bouffault as “very capable but not a team player.” Barbara Lee was elected vice chairperson. As the evening progressed, Welliver and Bouffault disagreed on several issues including appointment of the Budget & Finance committee. Welliver’s suggestion that “adding citizen volunteers to the budget development process would increase community involvement and transparency” was rejected by Bouffault saying “we can’t have citizens who aren’t sworn officials involved with handling the money.”
Many citizens spoke passionately against the inclusion of certain books in the International Baccalaureate reading program including “The Color Purple” and “The Handmaid’s Tale”. Citing obscene and offensive language not suitable for Clarke County students, one speaker suggested that the material violated Virginia School Board regulations. During the public comment period 18 citizens stood in solidarity against the books when prompted by Sharon Rogers of Berryville. Tony Parrott of Boyce expressed an opposing view saying that “morality should be taught at home” and removing the books was “an attack on personal liberty”. Although school officials are working with IB officials to remove the titles from the curriculum final resolution may not happen until sometime later this week.
Financial concerns related to the economic downturn continue to cast uncertainty over both the 2010 and 2011 school operating budgets. Dr. Michael Murphy, Clarke County Superintendent, described the increasing need for additional staff and resources within the school system including a Testing Coordinator, Guidance Counselors, Lunch Room Monitors and additional resources for the Music Program and Special Education Program. Murphy cited the need for an overhead projector in every classroom, replacement of aging textbooks and improved internet bandwidth. Dr. Murphy also mentioned that approximately $100,000 is necessary to bring existing computer cabling up to building code after being improperly installed by school staff. Murphy stated that the budget priorities were to maintain the essence and integrity of Clarke’s education program. Final budgetary amounts will not be known for several months as Governor Bob McDonnell’s new administration reviews its spending priorities.
School construction continues to be a major focus of both the School Board and Board of Supervisors. Robina Bouffault cited her expectation to have the final site plan for the new high schools completed by the end of May, 2010. Construction work can only commence after the site plan has been approved. Bouffault expressed uncertainty as to whether the current cost estimates correctly reflect all “off-site” costs including construction of a major storm water pipe that will connect to the Berryville water drainage system. Bouffault also questioned whether the school’s HVAC systems had been properly configured. Bouffault said that the School Board needs to be working simultaneously on the bid documents and the final site plan so that a request for proposal can be issued once the site plan was complete.
The Clarke County Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing to discuss the school construction budget on January 19th at 7:00pm in the Government Center. The agenda will include discussion of a contribution by the county of additional $9.8 million to the school’s proposed construction budget.