In a tight budget year, some belt-tightening proposals can become a matter of endless lobbying. This was the case last week during a School Board meeting when students and parents from Alexandria’s two year-round schools appeared to praise “intersession classes,” which are enrichment and remedial classes offered between semesters at Mount Vernon Elementary School and Tucker Elementary School. Speaker after speaker lauded the ability of the classes to educate and railed against a proposal to make parents pay for classes like tap dancing, money management and creative writing.
“I think this is absurd,” said Stefanie Beverly, mother of a third-grade student at Tucker. “The last time I checked, public education was supposed to be free.”
In January the School Board narrowly approved a $162.3-million budget, which was $6.8 million over the target set by City Council last year. As expected, City Manager Jim Hartmann proposed a budget that adhered to the $155.5 million-budget target set by the City Council, creating a substantial gap between the proposed appropriation and the request for funding. City and school officials are now engaged in a negotiation that will culminate in a March 28 work session between the City Council and the School Board at Tucker.
“Be forward thinkers,” said Therese Galach, a parent at Mount Vernon Community School, to board members last week. “Not back-benchers to City Council.”
In a unanimous decision last week, the School Board voted to outsource custodial services at the new T.C. Williams High School. Current full-time high-school custodians who work for the school division will be give the option of staying with the public-school system, joining up with the private contractor or entering retirement. The “new approach,” as it was called, was spelled out in a Feb. 20 memorandum written by Educational Facilities Director Mark Krause.
“A cost analysis was performed and it was determined that contracted custodial services would be more economical than adding to the existing ACPS staff,” Krause wrote in the memo, adding that six Virginia school districts use outsourced custodial services. “The proposed contract would be awarded as a ‘piggyback’ on the Spotsylvania County contract which was the bid under Virginia Public Procurement requirements.”
Facilities Committee Chairman Scott Newsham said that the proposal would result in “significant savings,” and he offered a motion to approve the idea. School Board member Charles Wilson seconded the motion to approve the idea, although board member Sheryl Gorsuch urged that the elected leaders use care moving forward with the idea of outsourcing.
“I’m going to support the motion, but I do urge caution,” said Gorsuch. From what I’ve read about outsourcing, there’s always a catch. I’m glad that we have cost savings in the short run, but I hope that we will continue to monitor this before we roll this out K through 12 without knowing what the wages are going to be for these employees.”
A Board Divided
Ever since the School Board narrowly passed its budget in January, on a controversial four-to-three decision with one abstention, the city’s elected school division leaders have had a hard time agreeing with each other. Just last week, the board had three five-to-four decisions in one night.
The first narrow vote of the evening was on a motion to defer appointments to an advisory committee for the 1,276 talented and gifted students in the division, which critics said lacked diversity. A successful bloc emerged to hold the day with a deferment: Campbell, Gorsuch, Rivera and Wilson. Those who wanted to appoint the existing slate of candidates, all of whom were white applicants from the central district — known as District B — of the school division, were the following: Eberwein, Folkerts, Newsham and Peabody.
Later in the evening, the issue of holding school on Election Day became a topic of dispute. Three members wanted to start school two hours late when the polls were open: Campbell, Gorsuch, Rivera and Wilson. But that plan, known as Option One, failed when five members voted against it: Folkerts, Eberwein, Maness, Newsham and Peabody. When a motion was made for Option Two, which closed all schools on Election Day, four members voted against the calendar even though Option One had already failed: Campbell, Gorsuch, Rivera and Wilson.
“I think the division has to do with personalities,” said Wilson, the only incumbent board member to stand for reelection last year. “The folks who were elected in this new board are strong-minded individuals, and there a huge differences in the demographics of the districts we represent.”