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Last updateThu, 19 Nov 2015 8pm

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Correction

Not long after The Journal got on the street we received a call and letter from Beth Hedges about an error in the paper. The following is Phyllis Cook's reply and then the letter from Ms. Hedges. 

Dear Ms. Hedges
 
Thank you for your letter.
You are 100 percent right and I was wrong.
Not sure how I did it, but I got to the wrong excel spreadsheet on the VDOE website and thought I was working off of the new report.
 
After I send this response to you, I will rewrite the article and send it to my boss for placement on our website.
I have likewise requested that the corrected replacement article also appear in next week's issue and have asked that my apology and correction regarding Potomac's success be placed in a prominent location on the front page.
 
I made a mistake and sincerely regret the error.

Phyllis Cook

 

Ms. Cook,
 
I received a copy of the Journal today, August 19, 2009 and read with total frustration your article entitled "School division, KGHS meet federal achievement objectives". I do agree that KGHS met the "mark under NCLB" , but you have your information wrong regarding Potomac Elementary School. As of last week, the Virginia Department of Education officially announced that Potomac Elementary did make AYP. The information is posted on the VDOE website. Letters have been received from VDOE stating that Potomac met AYP.
 
I serve this community in a variety of ways, one being the Math Resource teacher at Potomac. I know the hard work that the teachers and staff have been doing to "meet the mark". I know the hard work that the students have been doing to "meet the mark". I would appreciate it if you would finally step up and give credit to the students, teachers, and staff of Potomac and publicly announce that you have made an error in your article regarding our school.
 

Beth Jo Hedges
Math Resource Teacher
Potomac Elementary School

 

 

School capacities a moving target in King George

King George Superintendent Candace issued capacity figures for the county schools last week, with an official current tally of space available on August 5.  
School Board member Dennis Paulsen asked Brown what appeared to be a simple question about student capacities at the division’s schools at the last School Board meeting on July 22.  
The answer to that question has never been simple and has always been a moving target in King George.  This time was no different.  
Paulsen asked, “Can someone give me the max numbers for each of the schools?”
Brown responded saying, “I need to know - which capacity do you want?  Do you want the state number, the King George number?  Do you want the architect number?”
Paulsen inquired, “What’s the difference between the King George number and the architect number?”
Brown said, “The King George number traditionally has accounted for lower class size.  The architect, depending on the architect at the time, will come up with 22, 25 per class, whatever, and then allocate the number of classrooms.  The difficulty is at King George Elementary School we have the gifted center there that occupies some rooms, we have some clustered special education programs there that takes up some smaller rooms.  We can give you a general number, if you like.”
Paulsen agreed.  

Read more: School capacities a moving target in King George

School Board mulling possible change to division grading scale

The King George School Board got an update last week on results of a survey on the topic of possible changes that could be made to the division’s grading scale.
The grading scale committee was established in March by Superintendent Candace Brown.
Its purpose is to review the current grading scale and to research grading scales from other divisions with an eye to making recommendations concerning possible adoption of some changes.

Read more: School Board mulling possible change to division grading scale

Supervisors nix School Board request for extra $125,000

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.  

Read more: Supervisors nix School Board request for extra $125,000

School Board gets answer on county ownership of school property - again

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

70 School first-year employees get RIF letters

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
Staff Reporter

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