- Last Updated on Wednesday, 24 June 2009 13:05
- Published on Wednesday, 24 June 2009 13:05
- Hits: 426
School Board advised to instead use $500,000+ of current projected budget surplus
The King George Board of Supervisors declined to take action at last week’s meeting on a request from the School Board to give them an additional appropriation of $125,000.
Supervisors instead suggested that if the expenditures are really needed, the School Board should spend some of the more than $500,000 that it is expecting to have leftover in the current year’s appropriation.
The money was requested to buy stuff in the current fiscal year, which ends next week on June 30.
Prior to that agenda item on the June 16 meeting agenda, Supervisors had been provided a detailed written financial report by Donita Harper, Deputy County Administrator & Director of Finance.
The financial report indicated that as of May 31, the School Board was projected to finish the fiscal year with a surplus of $590,257.
Harper said she had conferred last week with Superintendent Candace Brown who she said had concurred that the division was still expected to end up with about $500,000 left over.
- Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 May 2009 17:45
- Published on Wednesday, 13 May 2009 17:45
- Hits: 607
Question asked and answered six years ago by Attorney General’s opinion
A Virginia Attorney General’s opinion confirmed the legality of the King George Board of Supervisors’ right to retain the deed to school property and lease it to the School Board for educational purposes.
That was back in May 2003.
The May 2003 Attorney General’s opinion was expressly written at the request of King George County Attorney Matt Britton six years ago when the School Board baulked the last time it was presented with a lease to execute by the county.
The question had arisen in early 2003 at a School Board meeting after the county purchased the property on which it subsequently built Sealston Elementary School and constructed a sports complex.
It was déjà vu all over again to hear the latest discussion questioning the ownership of school property by the county. That took place a month ago at the School Board’s most recent regular meeting, on April 8.
That’s when the School Board questioned the legality of the county to retain ownership of the new high school and the property on which is located.
Some things had changed in the intervening six years. Payne Kilbourn, Lynn Pardee and Renee Parker have since been elected to the School Board.
But Sherrie Allwine is the chairperson, as she was in 2003, Dennis Paulsen was on the School Board then, as now, and Candace Brown is still division superintendent.
The proposed lease for the new high school appeared on the agenda at the April meeting as a discussion item. The lease, included in the meeting packet, had been drafted by Britton in his role as county attorney. Britton is also the county’s Commonwealth’s Attorney.
In presenting the topic, Brown reminded the School Board that the previous two schools constructed in the county, King George Elementary School and Sealston Elementary School, are both owned by the county and leased to the School Board.
Pardee, who is an attorney in private practice, questioned the legality of that arrangement, saying, “When you read state law, it certainly reads that school property shall vest with the School Board. So I am a little confused why we are leasing this at all, since we should be the owners of the property.”
Kilbourn concurred with Pardee, saying, “I kind of agree with Ms. Pardee, here. When I look at the ‘tenancy in common’ provision in the statute it says, yes, you can do a tenancy in common, but only for the term of such financial obligation. In other words, it seems to me that the lease should at least terminate when the debt is paid off and then it vest directly to the School Board, and I don’t see that provision anywhere in here.”
Pardee inquired, “What if we don’t sign it, what if we don’t execute this lease, will it mean we can’t get to use it next year?”
Kilbourn responded, “It seems like we have to agree to it. Then we fall back on this other thing that says title to all property vests with the School Board.”
Parker said, “I am interested in getting some answers, maybe some clarification from Mr. Britton on this. Maybe that would help.”
Brown noted that it would likely be a conflict of interest for Britton since he is acting as the county attorney. She added, “We would need to go to a private attorney.”
Kilbourn noted, “I get very concerned about this. The state law and the case law is very, very clear that as a separate body tasked to oversee public education in counties in Virginia, the School Board should have certain levels of independent authority and not be subject to control by the governing body. And this is a perfect example of that. I would almost turn the question around. What do we gain by having the lease? Similar to what Ms. Pardee brought up earlier. Why even do it?”
Pardee said, “Actually, it’s the state constitution that vests the power in a local School Board to determine what the best use is of school property. So if the School Board feels that the high school is best used as a middle school, that’s up to the School Board and not up to the county Supervisors.”
Kilbourn persisted, “I really think you could make the legal argument that by signing this we are not complying with our duties under the state constitution because we are basically saying no, the Board of Supervisors will dictate to us what they think is best and not what we think is best.”
Chairperson Allwine said, “I am hearing from two of you that you want it reviewed by an attorney.”
Paulsen had previously in the meeting said, “I would be all for having somebody look at this lease and see if it is against state statutes.”
He reiterated that Britton should be asked to do that, adding, “Let’s be specific about what we want him to look at, not the clauses of the lease, but the legality of the lease for us.”
Six years ago, when the lease for the Sealston property came forward, Paulsen had also questioned the arrangement, saying, “We should have the deed to any land our schools are on.”
Subsequent closed sessions were held by both boards for legal briefings on the topic, which resulted in the request by Britton for the official legal opinion from the state’s Attorney General.
Parker questioned a clause in the proposed lease that states, “This lease shall automatically terminate six months from the end of the school year following any year in which notice is given by the School Board to the county that it no longer intends to use the property for educational purposes as a public high school; and shall terminate automatically and immediately if the property ceases to be used for educational purposes as a public high school.”
The next clause notes that if the lease is terminated for any reason, that “all buildings, improvements, equipment and fixtures not removed from the property shall become immediately the sole property of the county without notice or recourse by the School Board, or cost, of any kind to the county.”
Parker wanted to know how those clauses related to the middle school building, which is being vacated after school ends next month in June, with no plans for future use.
This fall, middle school students will be shifted to the old high school building, which is to become the county’s single middle school.
Allwine fielded Parker’s question, saying, “They don’t own the middle school.” She added, “I think that is specifically in there because of the Ralph Bunche situation.”
Allwine is correct that the Board of Supervisors started retaining ownership of property purchased for schools as a reaction to the School Board’s 10-year refusal to turn over the Ralph Bunche building.
The School Board vacated Ralph Bunche in June 1998 and only voted to turn the deed over in February of this year.
Regarding the soon-to-be-vacated middle school building, Brown wrote to County Administrator Travis Quesenberry in March, saying, “The School Board has indicated that they would like to make it available to the community to use for various activities rather than have it set empty. Do you need any temporary space?? We probably need to do it on a year to year basis because at some time we will really need to put students back into the building.”
~ LEGAL OPINION ELEMENTS An Attorney General’s official advisory opinion, dated May 22, 2003, addressed the topic of King George County ownership of school property.
The three-page opinion was written by former Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, which reconciled at least two separate sections of law, which appeared to contradict each other.
Kilgore said Section 22.1-125(A), requiring a school board to hold title in its name to the property that it owns, is not applicable under the questioned arrangement.
Kilgore said to interpret that section as prohibiting a school board from holding anything but exclusive title to property nullifies the power given to school boards in Section 22.1-129(B). That section of Virginia Code expressly grants a school board the authority to lease real estate.
Kilgore also noted a previous Attorney General’s opinion determining that Section 22.1-129(B) authorizes a school board to enter into long-term leases and to enter into a lease-purchase agreement with a private entity for real estate, including a school building.
Phyllis Cook, Staff Reporter
- Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 April 2009 21:00
- Published on Wednesday, 08 April 2009 21:00
- Hits: 466
12-month employees & those on 220-day contracts saying their days/hours could be reduced
King George division Superintendent Candace Brown sent out letters last week informing 76 first-year employees that they might not have a job next year.
70 other people who are 12-month employees, including central office administrators, and 13 employees on 220-day contracts also received letters.
Those letters cite possible reductions that could result, but say those positions “would remain, but at a reduction in the number of days worked and consequently at a reduced rate of pay.”
The 159 March 30 letters are brief.
The version that went to first-year employees states, “Due to a substantial reduction in state funding, and an anticipated substantial reduction in local funding for the 2009-10 school year, King George Public Schools faces the possible elimination of several positions in our school system. I regret to inform you that because of this budget crisis, you may not be employed for the next school year (2009-10).
“Please know that a copy of this letter will be maintained in your personnel file so that it will reflect a possible reduction in force due to budget cuts. (Reference School Board Policy GCPA-R)”
The regulation that is referenced in the letter provides details on the procedure followed for implementing a reduction and redistribution of teacher-certificated personnel based on seniority, contract status, endorsements, and salary classification.
There is no regulation spelling out layoffs for support personnel, but it is presumed that similar procedures would be followed, starting with seniority.
Under state law, School Boards must provide notice of nonrenewal of a teaching contract on or before April 15 of each year, or the teacher is entitled to a contract for the ensuing year.
But, that notice date does not apply in the case of a reduction in force (RIF).
We asked Brown about the timing of the letters.
She said, “We felt people needed to know as soon as it appeared that it may be a possibility.” She added, “Actually, we are behind other divisions in notification.”
But one difference with most other school systems which have provided similar notification to employees might be that those divisions are facing actual layoffs for next year, not just possible layoffs.
Brown’s recommended operating budget of $33,667,370 was based on maintaining all current staff positions.
She said she has been working closely on budget matters with county Director of Finance/Deputy County Administrator Donita Harper and County Administrator Travis Quesenberry.
Brown could not have been unaware when the March 30 letters went out that Quesenberry’s recommended budget fully accommodated her and the School Board’s request for an operating budget of $33,667,370.
That proposal was presented publicly to the Board of Supervisors at a meeting on March 25, during the week prior to her letters.
The tactic of sending out RIF letters may prove useful in rallying school employees to attend the planned public hearing on the county budget, expected to be advertised to take place on April 21.
Along those lines, the same day Brown sent out letters, she held an open forum that evening at Sealston Elementary School, which included talk of possibly shifting people in administrative positions and eliminating the Head Start program.
All five School Board members have publicly pledged to cut other items from the budget in order to fund Head Start, though their requested budget does not currently provide funding for the early-education program.
Holding such forums are a tried and true action by division superintendents to rally the troops to urge such things as a tax increase, as is being done in Spotsylvania by Superintendent Jerry Hill, who has reportedly scheduled a couple of such meetings for this week.
Brown allowed that even with letters warning of potential layoffs, recruiting for special education teachers and speech teachers is still ongoing, since teachers with those endorsements are in high demand.
It’s unclear why first-year special education teachers were recipients of the letter citing a possible RIF.
Brown said, “All individuals in the database listed as first year employees received a letter. We could have eliminated the special education teachers from the list as we will need additional special education teachers for next year.”
The Journal inquired if she had any concern that resignations could result from the letters, compounding a shortage of Special education teachers.
But Brown said, “All teachers know that the Board’s priority is to retain staff. It appears they understand that this was notification just in case a way can not be found to use a combination of funds to retain positions.”
By Phyllis Cook
- Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 February 2009 20:43
- Published on Wednesday, 18 February 2009 20:43
- Hits: 422
School Board paid lawyers $6,887 to avoid giving Rhodes $300 to settle 37,091 total costs for School Board over flawed discipline policy
What is thought to be the final legal bill has come in and been paid by the King George School Board and Superintendent Candace Brown to defend against a lawsuit by Januari Rhodes alleging due process violations in a student incident last May.
The School Board won a victory of sorts in December when it got dismissal they sought to close out the complaint filed by Rhodes last spring.
The judge ordered they only pay Rhodes $48 for her filing fees.
~ TOTAL SPENT ON ILLEGAL DISCIPLINE POLICY To win that dismissal judgment in the Rhodes case, the School Board paid $6,887.64 in legal bills.
That was in addition to the $48 ordered to be paid to Rhodes for reimbursement of her filing fee.
But they also had spent $15,166 to lawyers to defend the Linda Davis case, in which they lost two preliminary hearings in Circuit Court prior to readmitting Cody Davis to King George High School, in the first of the two cases alleging due process violations.
Then they settled with his mother by cutting a check to her for $15K in August to go toward her legal costs.
The grand total of legal fees on defending the two cases and the settlement costs on both add up to $37,091.64.
To keep that trend going, the School Board refused to settle with Rhodes for $300 she wanted to cover $250 she paid for a legal consultation and for her filing fee.
Instead, the School Board decided it would rather use taxpayer’s money to pay attorney Stacey Haney’s fee of $275 per hour to travel to King George, argue the dismissal motion and draw up a court order for the judge’s signature.
Haney is one of two lawyers, with Pat Lacy from the Richmond law firm of Reed Smith, LLP, that jointly represented the School Board and Brown, first to defend the complaint filed by Linda Davis and then to defend Rhodes’s legal complaint.
Both suits centered on separate student discipline incidents and how they were handled by a new division “Discipline Committee” as enacted by a change in policy in April 2008 by the School Board, which was inconsistent with state law.
Prior to the December dismissal hearing, the legal bills for defending the Rhodes case added up to $4,841.51, spent to avoid settling with Rhodes.
The December legal bill added another $1,795.85 to include 4 ½ hours billed for a 5-minute hearing in King George on December 16, which included travel time.
There’s no telling what route Haney took from the Richmond office of Reed Smith, but googlemaps.com notes the 62.2 mile trip takes about 1 hour and 14 minutes.
Doubling it for a roundtrip comes to 2 ½ hours. Being generous and granting 30 minutes for the 5-minute hearing and a few minutes of wait time, it would still come up far short of the 4 ½ hours at $1,237.50 charged.
The remaining $558.35 of that bill was for 1 ½ hours for Haney to prepare for the argument on the dismissal motion, $87.50 for a half hour spent drafting an order for the judge to sign, revising that order and drafting a letter to Rhodes. The remaining $8.35 was spent on expenses incurred for telephone and duplicating/printing/scanning.
The bill for January arrived in early February, for which Haney charged and the School Board paid $250.28 more for the Rhodes case.
The breakdown was $55 for 12 minutes spent by Haney calling the Clerk of Court’s office and drafting an email to Superintendent Brown. That 12 minutes alone cost county taxpayers $7 more than Rhodes received in her $48 settlement.
The rest of the billing for January was for “Costs advanced and expenses incurred” totaling $195.28.
That breakdown included $110 for “Court reporter expense,” $1.20 for duplicating/printing/scanning, $1.01 for postage expense, and $83.07 for mileage expense. (The School Board had already incurred $275/hour for Haney to drive back and forth to the December court hearing, in addition to this charge for mileage.)
Rhodes said she and her husband had decided to donate the $48 to the King George Area Food Bank.
That means that at least a small part of the taxpayer’s money spent on this case will do someone in King George a little bit of good.
By Phyllis Cook
- Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 February 2009 20:54
- Published on Wednesday, 11 February 2009 20:54
- Hits: 424
Former high school to become replacement middle school this fall
The King George School Board voted last week on February 2 to award a contract to Homeland Electric & Construction in the amount of $142,331.
The contract is for Homeland Electric to perform renovations at the old King George High school. Those are to consist primarily of changes to the interior configuration of the main office area.
In addition, it will install new fire-rated partitions for four classrooms in the northwest corner of the school to meet state fire and building code requirements.
The old classroom partitions being replaced were originally slapped up under a different superintendent years ago by the division’s maintenance department without benefit of a building permit and inspections to ensure compliance with building and fire codes.
Homeland Electric will also remove and dispose of existing vinyl composition tile and vinyl wall base in the corridor and prepare the floor slab to receive new vinyl tile and vinyl wall base in the corridor, in addition to removing existing acoustical ceiling tile in the corridor and replacing it with new ceiling tile.
Homeland Electric will also install catwalks for access to mechanical equipment.
The company is located in Forest, Virginia, which is nearly 200 miles away from King George, between Lynchburg and Roanoke. It is not known if local labor will be employed.
Superintendent Candace Brown has said that the work will be completed in time for the division to move into the building for the start of school this fall.
At that time, the school will no longer be a high school, but will become the county’s single middle school. The existing middle school will be vacant.
A newly-constructed King George High School opened to students earlier this month on February 2.
The language in the contract agreement provides for a maximum of 8 ½ months to achieve final completion of the renovation work.
The contract agreement states that “substantial completion” will be achieved within 120 consecutive calendar days from issuance of a Notice to Proceed. That’s four months.
But the contract agreement further states that final completion of all required work will be achieved within135 consecutive calendar days from the issuance of a Certificate of Substantial Completion.
That deadline for final completion of 135 days is another 4 ½ months after substantial completion. That could potentially take the end of the project up to the end of October.
Brown’s written Superintendent’s Report distributed at the same meeting also stated, “Please know that with renovations beginning in the old high school, nobody will be permitted in the facility until renovations are completed.”
While that likely applies to division employees and casual observers, the main activity currently affected is the county Parks & Recreation Department’s basketball program.
P&R officials were informed by a phone call on January 23 from Brown that the gym would not be available to it beginning in February due to a construction contract. P&R has had to reschedule basketball activities into the various other schools.
~ BIDS Homeland Electric & Construction was selected as the apparent low bidder out of a total of 12 companies responding.
The bids ranged up to a high of $311,510. The company was recommended Whitman, Requardt & Associates, LLP, which did the design and by the county Purchasing Department.
Whitman, Requardt said that the bid from Homeland Electric of $142,331 was about 45 percent lower than their engineer’s estimate of $259,600.
Whitman, Requardt provided a letter that indicated that they checked with the company’s list of references supplied and that they checked out, along with high marks on other standard checks on the company’s performance and reputation.
~ FUNDING The funding to pay for the renovations comes from $4 million provided by the Board of Supervisors nearly five years ago, in April 2004, when it earmarked the money for preparing the building for use as a middle school after a new high school was completed.
The first project was to replace the heating, air conditioning and ventilation system (HVAC) several years ago at a base cost of $2,225,000.
Numerous smaller projects have been performed since then, along with some equipment purchases and installations.
At this week’s meeting of the School Board, they are poised to approve a number of additional expenditures to spend down the bulk of the remaining money, which is estimated by Brown at $784,733.
- Last Updated on Thursday, 29 January 2009 02:39
- Published on Thursday, 29 January 2009 02:39
- Hits: 411
Brown’s budget request predicated on same amount of local funding as current year
The King George School Board this week heard numerous requests from member Lynn Pardee to increase its budget request to the county by over $2.6M.
No decision has yet been made to send that request up to the Board of Supervisors.
That guidance is expected when the School Board will continue its discussion of a 2010-11 budget proposal this afternoon (January 28) at another budget session prior to its regular meeting tonight.
The School Board appeared to be split on whether to include those additional costs in its budget request, with Pardee pushing hard for them, along with Payne Kilbourn.
It is clear that there will be major cuts in state revenue based on the Governor’s proposed budget. The General Assembly could end up making those cuts deeper.
Pardee is saying that the county should pick up the slack, and then some. She stated, “We need to make sure we are giving them (our students) absolutely everything they need. We don’t hope the supervisors are going to educate our children. We expect them to and we continue to put pressure on them until they spend the money they need to on our children.”
Pardee added, “And if they aren’t able to do that and not able to look deep enough into the future to see how important this is, then we need some changes in King George.”
The additions requested by Pardee include 2 percent raises across the board for all school employees estimated at $686K, retaining most items that had been deleted by Brown and added new programs, including a foreign language program at the elementary level.
At the previous budget work session on last Wednesday, January 21, Kilbourn gave a long statement at the end of that meeting to provide his position on county funding for the School Board.
Kilbourn stated last week, “King George County is different. And we shouldn’t rush to prejudge or to deliver a budget that doesn’t meet the needs that we think we should be meeting and the quality education that we should provide. The state is clearly projecting a budget deficit next year. They are in deficit this year.”
He added, “But around us counties are in deficit or close to deficit and are projecting deficits next year. We are projecting some minor revenue reductions in King George this year, but we still have a general fund surplus that is about $15M over the 15 percent of revenues that’s the county policy. Clearly, it’s not a good year for a tax increase locally, although that is a topic for another day when you look at our local tax rates and the fact that they have been subsidized by landfill revenues for 10 years. But we have ways to weather this storm with a budget surplus that is unique, very unique. So I think it’s important that we not rush to putting together a bare bones budget, but we look at needs-based. And with this significant budget reserve we have, it may even be a good couple years to make some advances on our neighbors in terms of salaries and salary scales and so forth. We have that opportunity.”
Chairperson Sherrie Allwine and Dennis Paulsen responded to Pardee’s requested increases, saying they were not in favor of the additions.
Renee Parker was undecided, appearing to agree with points made by each faction.
Paulsen said, “Ms. Pardee, I find that list to be admirable and things we truly need to give our children a good education. But in the current times, I find those requests to be fiscally irresponsible.”
Paulsen had talked up “pay for play” for sports participation at the previous week’s meeting, but it was not brought up this week.
Pardee stated, “I am not asking them to raise taxes, I am asking them to dip into their rainy day fund.”
Parker said, “I don’t care if they raise taxes or not.”
Allwine said, “Everybody knows this is a tough budget year throughout the state, and we can use these additional needs, but I can’t put it through when they have asked for level funding.”
Parker said, “Until we send it and see what they do, we don’t know.”
Allwine also said, “I don’t want to lose positions. And I’d rather preserve positions than have class sizes that are unmanageable for the teachers. And if it takes a salary freeze for a year to do that, then I think that’s where we need to go at this point.”
Pardee’s request to add $2.6M to the School Board’s budget request for 2010-11 followed a report from Director of Personnel Bill Wishard who provided an overview of procedures for a possible “reduction in force” (RIF), should that become necessary.
The School Board could find itself in that situation if the General Assembly ends up making further cuts to the Governor’s proposal for education funding and/or if the Board of Supervisors does not provide the same level of local funding next year as they have in the current year.
The county had informed Superintendent Candace Brown and all county department heads to not ask for budget increases.
Brown’s proposed request conforms to the Governor’s budget proposal for $1.4M less state revenue than in the current year.
But it is predicated on the county Board of Supervisors making no such reduction in revenue from the county.
The state is currently saying the required local effort from King George could be reduced by about $1.5M over the current year’s funding from the county.
Brown’s recommendation contains no salary increases, but does contain four new positions for two special education teachers and two special education paraprofessionals (aides).
But at the same time it also eliminates one position for a CTE/KGHS guidance counselor vacancy that will not be filled.
Brown noted that behind-the-wheel driver education has been added back in, saying that fees would cover the costs.
Brown also said that the Head Start program will be cut, which would have required $96K funding in the coming year.
There is no guarantee that the county will be in a position to fund the School Board at its current level given lower revenues and the likelihood of the current economic slowdown continue for the next year.
King George, like the rest of the localities in the region and most across the state, is experiencing reduced revenues and decreasing its own budget for the current year.
The Board of Supervisors have their first budget work sessions set for mid-February.
Wishard also told the School Board that the vast majority of those at the meeting from school divisions across the state said they would not be giving salary increases.
“Almost everybody in the room raised their hands.”
He also related that a majority of division reps also said they were contemplating cuts in salary and cuts in benefits.
~ NUMBERS Brown’s proposed request for 2009-10 would add up to $33,667,370, compared to the current year’s $35,191,245.
It would include state revenue of $19,828,433 and local revenue of $12,373,371, the same amount as in the current year.
That compares to $10,844,644 that would be the “Required local effort” amount from the county under the Standards of Quality in state law.
The remainder of the revenue would be $1,215,566 from federal sources and $250,000 from “other” sources.
If the School Board adds in the items requested by Pardee, it would need an additional $2.6M from the county.