Tea Party Debate Spawns Plenty of Disagreement Between Berryville School Board Candidates

In a campaign season where the small number of contested races has only been outdone by the seemingly smaller level of disagreement on the issues between opponents, Berryville’s two Clarke County School Board contestants drew clear differences between themselves on a number of issues last night.

Approximately 30 voters attended the second evening debate sponsored by the Northern Shenandoah Tea Party at Camino Real restaurant in Berryville last night. Berryville district School Board incumbent Jeniffer Welliver and challenger Jim Brinkmeier began differentiating their positions from the very beginning of the debate.

“I entered the School Board race because there were some things that were alarming to me,” Brinkmeier said in his opening statement. “I did not like the constant arguing and bickering. It seemed like there was a lack of trust. The test scores are a big concern for me. Retention issues are also a problem now for the school system. Recruiting. And it just goes on and on,” Brinkmeier said. “I really felt like we have lost focus on academics. The new school is important and I applaud everyone’s effort in getting the new school built. But we really have to stay focused on what’s really important and that’s what’s being taught in the classroom and what’s not being taught. And I think that the test scores are a good reflection of that.”

Brinkmeier also said that he believes in a strong vocational program, but that CCPS currently does not have a strong program saying that the current vocational course offerings are not effective in providing students with a living wage once they graduate from high school and that corporate partnerships need to be part of the vocational training solution.

“Who better to coach, train and mentor our kids than corporations and business people that have the experience?” Brinkmeier asked those present.

“I have a tendency to take a little offense when we’re told that we don’t have a good career and technical program when we do,” Welliver responded citing instructor Ed Novak’s career and technical guidance program which includes a popular robotics curriculum. “We are in partnership with Lord Fairfax Community College and students can take advantage of what they have to offer as well.”

“I ran four years ago because there was quite a bit of turmoil in this county,” Welliver said on her opening statement. “It was a hotbed of political activity between the Board of Supervisors and the School Board. I greatly appreciate the work that our Supervisors do. I know that we sometimes go head to head over money, but I very much appreciate their standards in keeping this county what it is.”

“But we do have to come up with creative ways to get money,” Welliver continued. “We also have to ask our state and federal legislators to help us by reducing the unfunded mandates. Last year it was Physical Education. I think that they wanted us to provide 150 minutes of PE per week. If that’s done then something’s got to go. You have to have more PE space and more PE teachers. Stuff sounds great when you’re in Richmond – just remember that. As stuff comes down from Richmond, someone’s got to pay for it. And guess who’s not paying for it? Richmond. So it falls on the Supervisor’s backs. Then the Supervisor’s say ‘We’re not raising taxes’. So then it comes to the schools. Then the schools end up having to cut things in order to preserve the core classes. And then the schools end up not meeting the requirements of the state.”

“You hear about declining test scores,” Welliever said. “What certain people have been putting out in the public, and I’m afraid that my friend [Brinkmeier] has gotten some of that and not the whole story. Our teachers are chasing SOL scores, SAT scores, and AYP. “

“The SAT scores went down an average of 17 points in math. In taking the SAT test, a 17 point shift can be caused from two questions answered wrong.”

Welliver also attributed some of the decline in SAT scores to more students in the lower academic range of the school system taking the test in order to go to college.

“We have spent the last four years building the school and focusing primarily school construction. So my hope is that whoever wins the election, whether it’s Mr. Brinkmeier or myself, will move toward creating a unified plan for how we are going to balance our advanced classes and our career and technical classes.”

However, when asked why the School Board had dedicated two work sessions on reviewing both advanced education offerings and vocational offerings yet elected to avoid substantive discussions about the advanced education – vocational offering at a planned day-long planning meeting, Welliver responded:

“Those items had already been discussed. The planning meeting was supposed to be about trying to put together a plan based on the information that we had already heard in those two meetings that we had already heard in numerous other School Board meetings. Test scores were not supposed to be a part of that meeting.  We had already talked about those. We were in a different kind of meeting at that time. If you keep trying to rehash, as I believe in that meeting…  I mean the purpose of trying to bring up the test scores again, which we had already discussed ad nauseum, we were talking about where to go from there to improve the scores, not the root of the problem again. We needed to go from the root of the problem. So that’s why that wasn’t allowed on that agenda because that’s not what that meeting was supposed to be about. Rehashing something that we had already discussed at several other meetings was not the point of the meeting.”

Brinkmeier responded “I strongly disagree with my opponent. That was supposed to be an all-day retreat. That’s how they advertised it. It was also supposed to be focused on student performance. There was only one Board member, from my understanding, that came with any real ideas or solutions. The all-day retreat lasted two-and-one-half hours and then they adjourned. Planning is important. Other issues are important. But tell me any other issue that’s not more important than student performance and making sure that they’re getting the education that they need?”

Welliver and Brinkmeier did superficially agree that the Federal No-Child-Left- Behind education requirement was a bad program but disagreed on how the school division should respond to the mandate.

Brinkmeier said “I don’t like the program. I don’t think that it gives an accurate assessment of how the children are learning. But unfortunately funding is tied to that and as long as that is, we have to do better. We can’t say ‘We don’t like it, we don’t think it’s fair so we’ll just do what we can.’ That’s not good enough.”

“I can tell you as an absolute fact that there isn’t anybody in this school system throwing up their hands and just saying ‘Oh well’,” Welliver responded. “I can’t think of one teacher, one principal or anyone in the administrative office or School Board who is not trying their level best to do the best by the students as possible. Let’s face it, everybody’s judged by the grades of the kids. The kids are judged by their grades. The teachers are judged by the grades of the kids. And that’s coming up even more and that’s just not fair. Because if you’re a teacher in fifth grade, and you’ve got a child who has had a less than inspirational teacher in third or fourth grade, and fifth grade happens to be a testing year, who’s going to get judged when that child doesn’t pass?”

“No,” Welliver said. “No-Child-Left-Behind is not a good plan.”

Welliver said that part of the problem that CCPS is encountering has to do with changing federal mandates for evaluating student and school performance and the need for less interference from the federal government in letting the local school division implement the requirements.

Welliver’s comment caused Brinkmeier to take issue.

“One of the comments that I heard my opponent make, that I strongly disagree with, is that ‘All children have the right to learn at the same level.’ I disagree with that, Brinkmeier said. “Children learn at different levels. And I don’t want to take gifted children and dummy-down them in class. If it’s a special needs child obviously they’re going to learn at a different level and have different needs. So I don’t want to throw kids into some type of homogeneous box and say ‘All children are going to do the same and learn the same. I disagree with that.”

Asked about the advanced curricula currently offered at Clarke County High School, Brinkmeier said:

“I think that we definitely need to scale it back and look at what’s working and what’s not because something isn’t working. If you look at the IB program it’s awful right now as far as the testing. The last test results I saw, we had something like a 25% pass rate. That’s not acceptable. And if you look at the other areas it’s the same thing. There’s been a decline in overall student performance. We need to do an immediate needs assessment in these areas and see what is working and what’s not. Some of the programs are extremely expensive. The AP Virtual courses seem like a good option. I like what I’ve heard about it in terms of the efficiency of the program. But some of our advanced programs are working and some aren’t. We need to either cut them or improve them. ”

“The Virtual Virginia courses are an issue,” Welliver said. “Certainly all students are required to have access to them but the Virtual Virginia AP courses are not cheap. And any online course is much more difficult than taking a class in a classroom. And again, the state wants to put those courses out there and say that they have to be available to all students. But we still have to provide the mentor, someone in the classroom. If you have one kid taking one virtual class we have to provide one mentor for them to help them get through the class. You have to also provide the materials for them. So virtual courses are not necessarily an inexpensive alternative to having the classes taught here.”

Welliver and Brinkmeier even managed to disagree on at least one non-policy driven position; Brinkmeier, whose picture has been prominently featured on the Clarke County GOP website, said that he saw no reason for School Board members to remain unaligned in terms of political party affiliation. Welliver countered that political independence was important and characterized herself as a “true independent”.

The opponents also differed on the preferred approach for dealing with possible future school funding challenges.

After Brinkmeier suggested that he would continue to look for further funding efficiencies in the school division budget Welliver replied:

“I can tell you that our schools have trimmed and made things more efficient. We have combined the maintenance department with the County. We have cut back use of administrators and days for counselors – things that actually do make a difference in the daily lives of the students. We’ve cut back on the number of calendar days that administrators work – principal’s no longer work all summer. We’ve combined the finance department with the county. We’ve done all kinds of things. We really are down to the bare bones just like the County is.”

“It’s going to be quite a challenge to come in and find things line-by-line,” Welliver said.

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Comments

  1. It is true Virtual Virginia must be made available to Virginia students, but the school has discouraged parents and students from utilizing this program. Parents have been told at meetings Virtual Virginia is only permitted if it is a requirement for graduation and the Clarke schools don’t offer the course. Some were even told this is a Clarke policy which I don’t believe is true. I wonder if Ms. Welliver can look into this?

    Also, I would like to know if it is true that the cut back in administrative staff mentioned in the article was removed about a year ago? Principals are working in the summer. So are the assistants. They did have a cut in days, which was a cut in pay (which I don’t necessarily approve of), but then it looks like some time was added back in without anyone really knowing. Also, someone was hired at the school board office who essentially replaces the cost of an employee who used to work for Clarke. At the time, it was presented as a cost cutting measure not to replace her. However, it ended up someone else was hired for another position which essentially uses up the savings there. What is the difference in administrative costs over all school board office personnel and the testing person compared to two years ago? Are we saving money? Does someone have this information or can they point me to it?

    • Diana,

      The Virtual Virginia program is a growing program that is a fairly new topic here in Clarke. I must admit I am not completely well versed in it yet, but from personal experience I can tell you that online classes are WAY harder than in the classroom, and as we are striving for our children’s success, we are very careful about who we encourage to take these classes . As for state requirements and accessibility I can and will find out that info for you. I just don’t know off of the top of my head and I would rather be right than fast.
      This Board has cut back drastically in administrative expenses in order to save money along with many other cost cutting measures. These cuts definitely do have an effect on students and on “customer service” like scheduling issues, etc. but the goal is always to “protect the classroom”. When we started, we eliminated several administrative positions and combined others with the county (such as finance and maintenance). Through attrition we have eliminated and combined (reorganized) many in house positions (such as Asst. Supt. and HR and others.) I will have to look up the dollar/position information to be accurate and complete. I will get that for you and provide it as soon as I can (likely by mid-week, next).

      jennifer

      • Diana,

        Indeed, as Robina says the reorganization in the SB office last year was meant to restructure without costing substantially more as opposed to simply cutting to save. The administrative cuts that this Board made in our first year though were a substantial savings.

        In the 2009 budget we eliminated:
        The FT Athletic Director position, Math Coordinator, Science Coordinator, Director of Maintenance and Transportation, Finance Director, Administrative Technology Director, and reduced supplemental contracts by $32k. Some of this, the Maintenance in Maintenance and Transportation, and the Finance were restructuring and not eliminating because we now share these with the County.

        Then in 2010, through attrition, we eliminated a Dean position and one librarian.

        This is some of the larger areas that were cut back, there are more. I apologize for asking for a few days. I DO usually check with staff to make sure I have complete and accurate information before sharing it. As they are the professionals, who the Board hires to do the work, I expect them to know more than I do.

        The complete budget information for each year is available on the Clarke County school website: http://www.clarke.k12.va.us

        As for the Virtual Virginia program, as I said, it is not something I know a lot about. Without asking people (our staff and speaking to people at vdoe and v va) I really have no more information than you would get on the internet. As none of these knowledgeable people are in on the weekends, I will talk to them soon as I can reach them.

        I will never claim to have all of the information, but I do promise to look for complete answers from a valid source.

        jennifer

    • Hal Jordan says:

      Principals do work the full year. APs were cut back to 11 months (July off), though1 or 2 might work summer school.

    • Diana –

      To respond to your questions about some costs:
      There were, 2 years ago, a few cuts from 12 month contracts to 11 month contracts for certain school building administrators. This has not changed appreciably. It did not affect Principals, who continue on 12 month contracts.
      Yes, at the SB office, a receptionist position was eliminated, and replaced by a Testing Coordinator, however was not meant as a cost-cutting measure, so much as a needed job position to deal with the state and federal increased testing regulations and demands. There was a net cost increase. (= more red tape!).
      There have been no cuts at the administrative staff level. There have been cuts at the teacher and teacher assistant levels:
      FY 11: 146.0 FTE (full-time equivalent) teachers and 52.14 FTE assistants.
      FY 12: 141.5 FTE teachers and 48.93 assistants.
      This was partially due to a student decrease over the last two years of approx. 100 students.
      There was a major cost increase due to an increase of the VRS fees, from 9.53% in FY11, to either 11.93% (professionals) or 12.89% (non-professionals) for FY12 (current year). This impacted the overall budget to the tune of some +$250,000. We are expecting yet another major increase in VRS costs for the next school year (FY13), some say as high as 22-24%. This will depend upon Richmond this December.

      Robina

      • Mr Mister says:

        It’s good that at least one SB member can give the correct information.

        ” I will get that for you and provide it as soon as I can (likely by mid-week, next).” Take note Jennifer, afterall you are running for re-election! I’m guessing it would have taken a week for it to have been spoon fed.

    • Diana and All –

      Here is the information that I said I would find out about regarding Virtual Virginia. As noted it all comes from the VDOE and I have verified it with Ms. Kelleher prior to publishing.

      https://docs.google.com/open?id=0Bz2N7iDAgdNBOTJhZjdiMzUtODE4Zi00NTY3LWJjNDMtZGUwNjgxM2Q2NGRh

      Also, the current policy and its corresponding regulation are under review by the Policy Committee at this time. They should come before the Board as soon as they are done in the committee.

      jennifer

      • CollegeKnowledge says:

        Jennifer,

        It was impossible to get into the link you posted. It would be easier to go directly to the Virtual Virginia website, rather than through GoogleDocs. Here it is:

        http://www.virtualvirginia.org/

        This site contains all the information you would ever need to know about Virtual Virginia.

        The VDOE page of relevance to virtual learning is:

        http://www.doe.virginia.gov/instruction/virtual_learning/index.shtml

        And here is the VDOE page with information on college and career readiness:

        http://www.doe.virginia.gov/instruction/college_career_readiness/index.shtml

        I hope this helps.

        • CK,

          Thank you for the information, but I have been there and I have spent the last two days compiling the document that I posted and verifying it with the VDOE director of the V VA program to be sure that I had it right. Perhaps Google Docs is only available to people with gmail or google accounts. I will send the document directly to cdn and perhaps they can post it in the format (pdf) that it is in.

          I apologize for the problem.

          jennifer

      • Thank you for this response, Jennifer. I have no problem with your taking time to review an answer. I will try to keep abreast of the policy when it comes out. I am able to open your document. I also appreciate college knowledge’s links. I have some reading to do. I was concerned because parents have shared with me that their children were discouraged from using VV. Some didn’t even know the option existed.

        I also thank you and Robina for posting information about the budget. When I open the information on the Clarke County site it just gives me the executive summary for the most recent years. I was looking for breakdowns on employees, administration costs, budget, etc.

  2. Hal Jordan says:

    Brinkmeier’s picture on the Clarke GOP site was cribbed from the July 18th CDN article, and taken by Mr. Leonard (although the site doesn’t give credit). What – Brinkmeier couldn’t provide his own photograph?

    http://www.sbe.virginia.gov/cms/documents/Skl_Bd_REF.pdf
    “The provisions of §§ 22.1-57.3 and 22.1-57.4 of the Code of Virginia further require:
    (5th bullet) –

  3. Tony Parrott says:

    Some people aren’t going to like this but so be it.
    “There was only one Board member, from my understanding, that came with any real ideas or solutions.” AKA Robina?

    “Brinkmeier also said that he believes in a strong vocational program, but that CCPS currently does not have a strong program saying that the current vocational course offerings are not effective in providing students with a living wage once they graduate from high school and that corporate partnerships need to be part of the vocational training solution.” Chris Bates?

    “After Brinkmeier suggested that he would continue to look for further funding efficiencies” AKA Dunning ?

    Either he is getting his talking points directly from these people or through osmosis.

    “I strongly disagree with, is that ‘All children have the right to learn at the same level.’” Ok but do you feel kids should strive to be better and try to excel or just face the fact they aren’t good enough? Special needs dummy down the class? I take offense to that statement. I have has a child with an IEP and he isn’t dummy down the class for anyone. He gets the help he needs so he can keep pace with the class.

    At first I though Mr. Brinkmeier was out of touch with the issues. Now it is painfully apparent to me that if you live in the Berryville district and like the job Robina is doing then Mr. Brinkmeier is your man.
    Some of you are going to think I’m being too hard on Mr. Brinkmeier especially when he is not in my district but for me a SB candidate should be first and foremost about the kids and “do no harm”. I hope I’m wrong but I don’t get that feeling here and because I have kids in this school system I’ll damn well speak my mind and tell anyone who will listen.

    PS
    I’m busy all weekend and will not have time to reply to any negative comments. I’ll try to catch you next week. Good Night and God Bless.

    • I happened to be present at this meeting and Mr. Brinkmeier made it very clear he is no one’s “puppet” I am pretty sure that is the term he used. He seemed very sincere about that. He said it because there was something said that he felt insinuated that. Ms. Welliver said that wasn’t her intent, but since you are doing the same I thought I would step out of my comfort zone and comment. He did not say special children cause you to dummy down the class. You are combining what he said. At least from where I was sitting he was pointing out there are different needs for all different types of kids. Can’t do the same thing for all students and something about accountability. I also think Ms. Welliver agreed with that, I may be wrong on that point.

    • I am definitely a Robina supporter and feel Brinkmeier is in line with Robina’s views.I live in the Berryville district and will not be voting for Welliver. We need a strong candidate who has the gumption to stand on their views, not the views of other board member. Time to get rid of the puppets!

    • Joe da Plumper says:

      Sorry Tony, I really tried to figure out which side of the Brinkmeier candidacy you were on and I just couldn’t. Come again? BTW, the fact that your child has an IEP is protected by FERPA. You just abrogated that provision.

  4. Northern Shenandoah Valley TEA Party (NSV-TP) Meeting

    I want to thank everyone who attended attend our Candidate meeting last night. I hope you felt as I did, that it was an informative session & offered the opportunity for good, personal interaction with the Candidates.

    All the speakers provided good insight on their experience and qualifications for the positions sought. They articulated their opinions on issues and were open to providing direct responses to many great questions.

    Special Thanks to the Clarke Daily News, Edward Leonard, for great questions, providing detailed coverage and a forum for continued discussion.

  5. Try Again says:

    Here is the mission statement for Virtual Virginia:

    Virtual Virginia is a program of the Virginia Department of Education serving students in Virginia MIDDLE and HIGH schools by providing flexible options for the diverse educational needs of students and their families. The program offers equal access to online courses for students who might not be able to take Advanced Placement, world language, core academic, and elective courses due to the lack of a highly-qualified instructor, too few students to offer the course, or scheduling conflicts within the school.

    I wonder why Ms. Welliver asserts that these classes are WAY too hard? VV has an excellent success rate for both MIDDLE and HIGH schoolers and top notch teachers. It is simply a modern approach to learning in a modern world.

    My son and I have both taken on line courses and enjoyed and excelled in areas that we love.

    I suspect is IS a cost issue ( those pesky up to date textbooks), but it IS a provision of the Code of the Virginia. While it may be an unfunded mandate, we fund other things that are NOT mandated.

    Skip the propaganda and false statements about the hard stuff and start abiding by the law. If the dollars are short, cut the stuff that is not mandated.

    Mr. Brinkmeier seems to understand the

    • Fly on the wall says:

      Brinkmeier is a lightweight. His answers come across as nothing more than talking points from a particular source because he truly has no understanding of how a school system is run, or the requirements placed upon it.

      It’s funny that Robina has a lot of data on positions cut and all, yet seemed surprised to hear that class sizes have gone up because of these cuts and increased enrollments in certain grades.

      Try Again, what would you cut? Athletics, like freshmen sports? Or, specific teams? The musicals? The fine arts classes? Chorus?

      • Try Again says:

        Well, I’d rather NOT cut any of those items, Fly. All of them have merit and produce a better student.

        That said, the CCPS school budget is not dissimilar to my home budget. There are itmes I am mandated by the commonwealth to pay. I would rather not pay my car insurance, for example as I have not had an accident in 20 years. However, under judicial command, I must pay. For my family this means less dinners out and field trips-both of which have merit to my family.

        This school board has already been slapped on the wrist by VDOE for non compliance on mandated issues ( gifted education, family life education and errors of omission in reporting come to mind).

        Being compliant with the law is first and foremost. As with Virtual Virginia, CCPS cannot continue to simply say “we don’t do that here”. No one will be happy when non mandated items are cut to fund for this, but it’s mandatory not optional.

        While I disagree with the BOS on school funding, there is no sense in fantasizing about any more money coming from this BOS or the next. They’ve made their point loud and clear.

      • Fly, I don’t now why you would say holding the schools accountable is being a lightweight? That is what I heard him say at the meeting and then he said the same at my front door. Plus, his wife is a school principal, do you think he has no idea how schools are run? I wonder if you have even met him in person? He said he makes house calls which I thought was funny, but it is true.

      • White Post Voter says:

        Mr. Brinkmeier is hardly a lightweight. He has worked for years on education issues and served on a number of boards in support of that effort. He is an adjunct professor at Lord Fairfax Community College. In all respects, he is light years ahead of Ms. Welliver.

        His wife is a principal at a middle school in Frederick County. Another poster on this article has tried to diminish the value of that partnership. The fact is that his wife would be a valuable resource on educational issues and policy challenges that the teachers and staff face in the trenches every day.

        Mr. Brinkmeier’s experience and obvious work ethic over the years suggests that he does understand the strengths and weaknesses of public education. The fact that he has made the effort to run for School Board shows a willingness to bring fresh ideas and approaches to our school system.

  6. Been Here To Long says:

    Pat, My wife is a nurse, I know absoutely nothing about nursing.

    • I respect your comment Been Here although I bet you know more than “nothing” about nursing. I just don’t think Mr. Brinkmeier is clueless. He certainly gets his information from more than one source. I saw his papers from the state education department. Unless someone wants to say that data from the state isn’t accurate. Or maybe Fly is implying another source.

  7. Berryville resident says:

    I support Jennifer Welliver. Mr. Brinkmeier will bring combative disharmony to the School Board and will be divisive. He comes across as a bully who will demand to always have his way. He seems to have an axe to grind and will be inconsiderate of the hard working tax paying adults, who will pay the bill for his agenda. Jennifer has a daughter in school and cares about public education. Mr. Brinkmeier wants to be on the School Board for his ego and not for the students. As for low test scores, some students do not read the questions carefully and get tricked up by the multiple choices. Some students are lazy and many are not motivated..