As the Clarke County School Board tries to handle an already full agenda of normal business, in addition to school construction, at least one high-profile problem appears solved while several others surfaced to take its place.
Dr. Matthew Eberhardt, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction, reported that the reading list for the International Baccalaureate (IB) program and the College Dual Enrollment program has been expanded to include additional titles more traditionally associated with high school programs. Many Clarke citizens have expressed outrage that students participating in the program are being required to read titles with mature themes related to incest, rape, and violence.
Mary Veilleux, the parent of two CCHS students, was pleased with the decision. “The material in these books is simply inappropriate for anyone under 18 years of age.” Veilleux said that attempts to characterize removing the texts as “restricting personal freedom” was unfounded. “Parents have the ultimate responsibility for raising their children. I believe a parent’s judgement that certain books be removed is an appropriate response. It troubles me that anyone in the school system would even question that right.”
Dr. Eberhardt reported that the school system has reached a compromise with both the IB and Dual Enrollment programs that will allow students to read Sandra Cisneros’ “The House on Mango Street” and Willa Cathers’ “My Antonia,” instead of the more controversial titles, “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker and “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Canadian author Margaret Atwood. While “The Color Purple” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” will remain on the reading list, the addition of the new titles provides students and parents with a wider range of instructional alternatives.
On a related topic, Eberhardt told the School Board that many of Clarke’s teaching textbooks are outdated, some nearly 30 years old. As an example, Eberhardt said that the school was still using career training textbooks published in 1992. “Many of our texts are becoming too dated to use,” Eberhardt told the School Board. Eberhardt and a team of school staff have identified English textbooks as needing the most urgent replacement followed by Mathematics. Eberhardt said that he did not believe the school system would ever reach agreement on prioritizing the third textbook category needing replacement. Dr. Eberhardt presented the School Board with a detailed worksheet itemizing the school’s textbooks by subject and corresponding age of the text. No timetable was identified for replacing the obsolete texts.
Much of the meeting discussion surrounded Clarke County School’s crumbling infrastructure and capital projects needing immediate funding. Technology Director, David Baggett provided the Board with a detailed account of recent technology successes, most notably the installation of high speed connections between school buildings, but resolution of internal computer cabling problems that prevent students from realizing the benefit of the high speed network is still is not clear. Baggett said that he could easily spend $500,000 on the School System’s computer network alone.
Other infrastructure issues cited as requiring immediate attention included food service facilities ($40K over two years), a new roof ($170K), and a new school bus ($70K). Clarke County Superintendent, Dr. Michael Murphy said, “It is vitally important to maintain our investment in order to protect our future”.
How Murphy and his staff will address even basic infrastructure needs is increasingly uncertain as Clarke County faces its third consecutive year of Virginia Department of Education budget cuts. Murphy said that Virginia could see as many as 22,000 education jobs cut statewide as a result of declining tax revenues. 85% of Clarke’s school budget is attributed to personnel cost, therefore a significant budget shortfall will likely impact school personnel and instruction quality. Dr. Murphy said that his plan to address the budget shortfall may include a moratorium on pay raises and on replacement of staff lost through attrition.
While the Clarke school budget does contain a contingency fund for emergencies, this fund was recently depleted by $200K to cover the 2010 budget shortfall. The contingency fund was also tapped for $500K in support of the school building budget. Clarke’s current projected budget shortfall for fiscal year 2011 is $372K under former Governor Tim Kaine’s budget, however, incoming Governor Bob McDonnell’s revisions to the Kaine education budget may increase Clarke’s budget shortfall to as much as $1 million dollars.