Blair Updates Building Projects

Published 4:39 pm Tuesday, November 23, 2010

BUCKINGHAM – When the school board met on Wednesday, November 10, Superintendent Gary Blair provided updates on the renovation project for the two schools on Route 20 and the construction of the bus garage/maintenance facility behind the school board office.

Beginning with the renovation project, which will yield lower and upper elementary schools, Blair said some additions to the contract with Blair Construction were necessitated due to the Davis Bacon prevailing wage and labor standards established by the U. S. Department of Labor.

Subsequently, the base bid of $17,332,000 increased by $85,254 due to the wage determination. However, Blair explained there was a decrease of $9,650 due to some adjustments with the bond process, bringing the construction cost to $17,407,604 for the 405-day contract.

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During the update, Blair said they closed on the interim financing on November 4 and the money is available.

“I am pleased to say that Davenport cost less than we projected,” said Blair, referencing assistance from Davenport & Company in securing the interim and long-term financing for the project.

Moving on to that long-term financing, Blair said the Qualified School Construction Bond application was completed. “We will meet the November 19 deadline,” he shared.

“So we are excited about that possibility,” said Blair, noting that if the application were successful, the county would save approximately five to six million dollars in interest over the life of the loan.

Moving on to the bus garage, Blair called on facilities director Chip Davis to report on its progress.

Davis said workers were polishing the floors to the transportation bay. He added that two more pours of concrete were planned before the week's end and gravel would be placed.

According to Davis, he projects the project will be substantially completed by the end of the month.

Communications Policy

During last month's meeting, Superintendent Blair shared that he met with representatives of the Buckingham Education Association and was recommending its amendments and changes to the communications policy.

At that time, he told the board, “I certainly support what the intent of the policy is and I think it will do exactly what we want it to do, which will monitor and have some checks and balances for any possible indiscretions or problems with communications.”

However, noting the extent of the revisions, Chairman Acie Allen suggested postponing a vote until November so that the board could review the changes in context with the document.

Subsequently, on Wednesday, the board revisited the communications policy.

Chairman Allen requested the board consider putting the policy's original opening paragraph back into the document.

Sharing that paragraph with the board and audience, Allen read, “The Buckingham County School Board shall require that all communications between employees and students be appropriate and in accordance with state law. All electronic or any other communications by employees to students, at any time, shall be expected to be professional, acceptable in content to any reasonable person, and limited to information that is school related or is acceptable to both student and parent.”

Allen offered, “I think that gives a purpose statement to the whole policy. I would like to see that put back in if there are no objections.” He added, “And I would also like to authorize Mr. Blair and his staff to go ahead and work on regulations as far as the enforcement of this policy goes.”

Blair explained a policy is voted on by the board and a regulation is an operating procedure that supports a policy. He added a regulation is done internally by the staff.

Subsequently, with a motion by David Christian, the board approved the BEA's recommended changes to the policy with the inclusion of the policy's original first paragraph.

Prior to the vote, Sherry Ragland asked for BEA's opinion about reinserting the first paragraph.

In response, several members of the BEA who were present said they agreed with including the paragraph.

Public Comments

Former school board member Roger Spivey questioned the board about the $15 student activity fee implemented at the high school at the beginning of the school year.

“I have a question that nobody seems to be able to answer,” stated Spivey. “What are you going to do with the money?”

When Chairman Acie Allen asked if Spivey had discussed the subject with Roger Coleman, principal of BCHS, Spivey said his daughter had talked with Coleman. He added that his daughter and his wife also talked with Mr. Blair and several other administrators.

Superintendent Gary Blair explained that in July, Coleman talked with him about enacting an activity fee to supplement the general fund in order to support additional student activities, student materials, graduation, achievement rewards, field trip possibilities, social events, student incentives, receptions, assist in purchasing academic jackets and other student-oriented needs.

Offering that he couldn't provide specifics on the activities, Blair stated, “I understand that he does have a student advisory committee.”

Blair shared, “What we do know is over the past three or four years funding has significantly decreased. Schools don't have a huge savings account like they used to.”

The superintendent explained that the principal was trying to find a way to fund other activities. Blair added that when he met with Spivey's daughter and Mrs. Spivey, he talked about his directive to provide incentives and honor students who do a good job, who make the honor roll, who behave every day.

Blair said he thought Coleman, looking at other school divisions, saw the student activity fee as a vehicle to do that.

Continuing, Blair stated, “What my expectation as superintendent is that it is spent for students…It is not to pay the light bill. It's not to pave the parking lot. It's not for renovations or for upgrades. It goes back to the students.”

Coleman said there is an incentive advisory group, made-up of students, that is looking at different ways to improve the student body. He said the group was looking at issues such as ways of increasing student attendance and improving grades. “Not just shake their hands and give them a pat on the back but actually do something for them,” offered Coleman.

He shared that a recent bowling trip for students making the honor roll went really well. “I think the students enjoyed themselves,” stated Coleman.

The BCHS principal explained that he realized there may be issues for some students who cannot afford paying the activity fee. Coleman said assistance such as providing a payment plan or other alternatives is available.

Spivey responded, “I don't have an issue, I just want to know where the money is going.”

Equating the fee to a tax, Spivey stated, “If it is a tax-you know where your tax money is going whether you like it or not, basically.”

He continued, “And I do understand that if you don't pay the $15 you don't get to participate in the graduation ceremony and my daughter doesn't plan on doing that.” Spivey added, “It's not the money, it's the principle.”

Reiterating that he wanted to know what the money would be used for, Spivey concluded, “So figure it out. I'm sure a lot of other people would like to know where that money is going.”

Later in the meeting, David Christian, who spoke against the fee in July, stated, “I've had multiple people at least say something about it in passing.”

Continuing, Christian said, “I think he said it right when he said it is a tax.” He offered that he did understand the part about not knowing at this point how the money will be spent and equated it with someone not knowing what his or her disposal income would be spent on in March.

Christian said he is not convinced they will get fees from all the students. “There are people who just cannot afford it,” he stated. “We are going to have part of the students picking up the load for all of the other students.” He added, “That is the reason I voted against it the first time.”

He offered, “It would be nice to know how we plan on getting the funds from people who just can't afford them. And, if they can't, are we truly going to keep those children from participating in the graduation exercise. If not, what is going to be the criteria for allowing them to walk.”

Coleman explained that donations have been made from the community for those individuals who truly cannot afford to pay the fee. “So those parents that are in that situation if they get in contact with me, we can make some arrangements.”

When Christian asked what efforts would be used to get those who can afford to pay to do so, Coleman said reminder letters were recently sent to students who have not paid the fee. The principal added, “Again, in that letter it stated if you are having an issue please get in contact with the administration.”

As the discussion continued, Chairman Allen interjected that many school systems are charging such a fee-some more, some less.

“Just because other folks are doing it doesn't mean we have to,” responded Christian, noting his concern was implementing additional fees and adding them at a time when it is already rough.

Christian said he would like to have a running account of the percentage of students who have paid the fee and how the funds are spent.

Ragland pointed-out that the high school staff has been doing that.

Consent Agenda

Before the board approved its consent agenda, Vice Chairman Ed Wise requested the monthly enrollment report indicate the number of fourth graders at Dillwyn and Buckingham Primary schools.

Those children are technically Dillwyn Elementary School students. However, the school closed while it and an adjacent building are renovated. Subsequently, the fourth graders stayed at the primary school they attended in the third grade and fifth graders were re-located to Buckingham Middle School.

Superintendent Blair said they would begin providing the information as requested.

In Other Board Action

The board agreed to change the starting time of the December 8 meeting from 2 p.m. to 1 p.m. because the agenda includes honoring students, who would need to be back at their schools in time for dismissal.

School board members formally accepted the donation of three surplus vehicles from the sheriff's office. The motion to do so also included the board's expression of appreciation for the donation.

Following a closed session, the board approved its personnel agenda with recommended changes.

Included in the personnel agenda were the resignations of Kelly Irvin as winter cheerleading coach; Jon Traina, technology specialist; and Ericka Holman, early childhood special education aide, effective December 18.

Appointments included Larry Morris as head varsity softball coach; Felecia Harris, winter cheerleading coach; Marla Wayman, assistant girls' basketball coach; Michael Kimble, head JV boys' basketball coach; and Cory Donnelly, technology specialist.

Other appointments included Jackie Woodson, Loretta Cottrell, Amanda Bagby, Albert Parker, and Rhonda Wells as special education hourly personal aides; and Casey Butwin and Jessica Steinke, temporary part-time positions for a library bar-code project.