After nearly four years together the Clarke County School Board has set the date for a long envisioned, but never implemented “goals retreat.” Even so, the School Board may still face challenges in establishing meaningful goals given disagreements over exactly defining exactly which problems that the retreat is intended to solve.
At Tuesday night’s meeting School Board Member Robina Bouffaut (White Post) was the only School Board member to offer specific suggestions about what goals a retreat agenda will address. Bouffault also repeated her frustration that the school board still has not achieved the goals that it set for itself in from a 2008 “position paper.”
“Our position paper listed three main public concerns,” Bouffault said. “Number one, construction of a new high school – well we’ve taken care of that; Second, the need to increase the number of vocational courses; Third, performance requirements for more academically challenging courses.”
Bouffault said that the unachieved position paper goals make it clear that the upcoming retreat should focus on student performance and also on collaboration with Lord Fairfax Community College on ways to broaden vocational course offerings.
The planned goals meeting comes at an odd time given that at least two School Board members are voluntarily vacating their positions as the current School Board’s term ends with the upcoming November elections. Neither Robina Bouffault nor Emily Rhodes (Buckmarsh) is seeking re-election. A third School Board member, Jennifer Welliver (Berryville), is being challenged for re-election by Berryville businessman, James Brinkmeyer.
The late term goals meeting highlights ongoing differences that have prevented the School Board from collectively agreeing on a long range agenda beyond the construction of the new high school. A previous School Board “goals retreat” that had been in the planning stages since May, 2010 was canceled at the last minute in September 2010. The previous meeting, which was to be held approximately 60 miles west of Clarke County, had been intended to allow School Board members to develop their vision for Clarke County Public Schools away from public oversight and with facilitation by an independent education professional. Specific reasons for why the previous planning retreat was canceled are vague, however, at the time the Virginia FOIA Council issued an opinion that the private meeting would have violated the Freedom of Information Act.
At Tuesday night’s meeting School Board member Janet Alger (Russell) responded to Bouffault’s agenda request by attempting to gain a consensus on a more focused set of goals for the discussion.
“I think that we have to narrow the agenda into specific areas of need in terms of student performance,” Alger said.
However, Bouffault disagreed responding that the school district is facing three major problems including an “awful” financial scenario in the coming fiscal year.
“Our advanced academic programs are in trouble, we’ve had a reduction in vocational programs and we’ve got a very limited budget for next year,” Bouffault said. “This requires a serious review of everything that we’re doing and we need to start now.”
School Board superintendent Dr. Michael Murphy, however, took issue with the validity of Bouffault’s premise for meeting.
“It’s hard for me to accept your statements that our advanced programs are in trouble and that funding prospects are â€˜awful,’” Murphy replied. “The funding is only a problem because we are the 119th worst funded school division in Virginia. Our test scores are not where we want them to be but we’re not in â€˜trouble.’”
“We can complain all that we want to about funding, but we aren’t going to get more than what we have now,” Bouffault replied. “Our test scores have been declining for the last three years. We need to turn things around with some original thinking in the face of a difficult budget.”
Despite Bouffault’s position, School Board members Alger and Welliver said at a recent Special School Board meeting held to assess the school division’s International Baccalaureate (IB) and Advanced Placement (AP) programs that they are both comfortable with division’s progress in addressing any issues related to the two programs.
Given the divergence in opinion combined with the short tenure of the current School Board, the emergence of any meaningful policy decisions from the goals meeting seems doubtful.
Supervisor Barbara Byrd (Russell), who normally attends most school board meetings and was in the audience on Tuesday night declined to comment on Clarke County’s school funding position ranking vis-Ã -vis other Virginia school districts.
The Clarke County School Board plans to meet to redefine its goals and direction on October 5 at 9:30am. The location of the meeting was not decided as of last night’s meeting.