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School Board Weighs Plan

PRINCE EDWARD-After much study and weighing a possible savings that could restore some cuts for the coming budget year, County school board members opted to stay the course.

For now.

Specifically, the board considered proposals from private firms to provide custodial services or keeping their own staff to do the work. Rather than push a decision through prior to the start of the next school year at their regular June meeting, the board plans another look at the option in advance of the next school year, while weighing possible internal changes.

School board member Linda Leatherwood noted that she had some reservations-citing that it's almost the middle of June and the contract would take place the first of July, noting employees who have been there a long time. She also said she wondered if they are doing all they can to make sure the workers they have are doing the work that they should be doing. There is also the issue of time, she pointed out, with it being June.

“Maybe we should look into alleviating some of the problems and keep this in mind for a reasonable time for (the) next school year if we're not satisfied,” commented board member Harriett Fentress.

Initially, Board Chairman Russell Dove cited, he thought their main reason for looking at it initially was for budget savings.

“I think the RFP (request for proposals) and the analysis of the proposals was the right thing to do,” Division Superintendent Dr. David Smith said. “I think we have learned that there is potential savings that we could apply to other parts of our operation, but I think as a result of this process we have a little better understanding of where the pitfalls are, as well. And that's really important that we consider before we jump into an outsourcing agreement.”

The superintendent suggested that they might be better served delaying a decision, starting the process in the December-January timeframe so they “could hopefully be at a decision point by, say, early April.” It would allow them to plan for a smooth transition, he suggested, and would also allow employees to know in plenty of time what the impact is going to be on their jobs.

In looking at improvements and efficiency, he added, anything that they can improve in-house, he also offered, is an important step, as well. The superintendent suggested they do new RFPs and bring it back about the December-January timeframe.

Ultimately, the school board voted not to outsource (with vice chairwoman Susan Lawman opposing), but indicated that they would consider it for next year.

School officials had sought proposals from vendors to provide the service. Options included keeping current full-time workers with at least ten years of experience for payroll and benefit purposes (workers would be under the management and direction of the contractor and replaced by the firm through attrition) and not including such a stipulation, though school officials could suggest those workers be hired by the firm providing maintenance services.

Contracting the services, depending on the chosen firm and option (four proposals were received), was projected to save between $52,100-$224,968.

A savings that, given the level of budget cuts approved by the school board, could have restored funding to some cut programs and positions.

“I think we've gotten to a point in balancing the budget now, with the approved amount from the board of supervisors, that I don't think there's a devastating item on there that is absolutely life or death critical that would drive the decision the other way on outsourcing custodial services just to achieve that savings for that purpose,” Dr. Smith said.

Geared Up

Laura Williamson, Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction, outlined that 29 students in the 2011-12 graduating class have been awarded competitive scholarships from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) through the Gear Up project.

Ms. Williamson noted that Prince Edward was one of 25 school divisions in the state that received a Gear Up grant in 2006. Gear Up, an acronym that stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, was provided by the State Council of Higher Education to prepare and encourage students to be ready for college. It began, Ms. Williamson detailed, with a cohort of seventh graders. It was noted that students completed a pledge that said they would complete high school, apply for admission to at least two Virginia colleges or universities, attend school regularly (maintaining an attendance rate of 95 or better), encourage their parents to participate in Gear Up meetings, establish an account in Virginia Mentor, maintain a grade point average throughout middle school and high school years of at least 2.5, take the PSAT in 10th grade and take the SAT.

Students were eligible to apply for scholarships based on their participation in Gear Up activities and it was reported that 29 applied for and received grant funding through SCHEV: 19 students were granted $5,500 for college (renewable each year) and 10 students were awarded $2,000. Scholarships awarded to Prince Edward seniors through the program this year totaled $125,000.

At this point, it was noted the funding has expired for the Gear Up project and SCHEV.

Kudos were offered to those who helped and school officials noted the importance of continuing the initiatives in encouraging students to go to school.

In Other News…

*The school board, with further consultant analysis, opted to stay with its current health insurance plan offerings for employees, which includes Key Advantage 250 and 500. The board had weighed the self-insurance option.

*The board collectively supported fellow member Dr. Ellery Sedgwick for the Virginia School Boards Association Board of Directors as an at-large candidate.

*The school board has planned its annual retreat for September 15.

*School board members were presented, as a non-action item, with a lengthy list of proposed policy revisions for a first reading.

*School officials will take additional time in developing the new document for the gifted plan. School board members have until the opening of school to approve the plan.

*The school board recognized Aubrey Holman Jr. for his 33 years of service to the county schools and Robert Nunnally for his 37 years of service.

*Chairman Dove, reflecting on the County's Memorial Day service where one of the County's former students, Corporal Jonathan T. Yale, noting it was a “moving ceremony,” was recognized. He also recognized all young men and women who served in the military-including those present, who were asked to stand.

*School board members sought clarification on student numbers related to the end of the 2010-11 school year and the just completed 2011-12 school year.

*Frank Early, commenting during public participation, commended Cambridge Education for the progress he's seen in the accomplishments at the high school. Early also cited the trend in declining enrollment, which, he noted, dates back years.

“…We need to watch and support Cambridge because they-if you give 'em time, stay out the way-they can do what they need to do,” Early relayed. “But, also, communicate with the parents because they…know why they're dragging their children out of the school system.”

If you're not going to educate them, Early further relayed to the board, they'll find a way to educate them themselves.