School Board Returns Gift

Published 4:54 pm Tuesday, September 10, 2013

PRINCE EDWARD — No thanks.

County school board members revisited the possible anonymous $10,000 donation to support the Advanced Placement (AP) program. The donor had asked that AP teachers receive a financial incentive for every student passing the AP test, but some school board members balked at the concept of rewarding some teachers for student performance.

“…I had a discussion with the donor and posed the question as the board directed in the last meeting and, after a couple of different discussions and some time for thought and reflection, the donor’s final comments were if the incentives can’t be paid as directed, that he’d like to have the gift returned,” advised division Superintendent Dr. David Smith.

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The donor had stipulated that funds go toward participation of instructors in summer professional development in Advanced Placement (AP); tutoring beyond school hours for AP courses and tests (including Saturday sessions); transportation and other costs for AP meetings or review sessions; teacher awards and incentives: $100 for each student scoring 3-5 (a qualifying score for receiving college credit) or $500 for summer course development; and AP specific materials.

It was the last stipulation, however, that gave the board heartburn as last month they agreed to go back and ask the donor to consider the donation without the incentives for teachers. School board members briefly revisited the discussion at their September meeting and, on a 4-3 vote (with board member Sherry Honeycutt not present), they opted to return the gift.

(It was also noted in the discussion that the proposal was for the incentives or $500 for summer course development. It was asked if that had been broached with the donor and it was noted that there were attempts to contact the donor that day, but there was no response. It was also incited that the donor’s meaning was not clear.)

“I understand how we want to make sure all of our teachers are treated equally, but at the same time I understand how we have a limited funding,” Board Chairman Russell Dove said, adding that he basically hates “to disregard any kind of funding.”

Noted board member Darin Thomas, “Well, we beat it for 45 minutes to an hour and he doesn’t want to go with our stipulations, so it needs to go back…Plain and simple.”

Board member Linda Leatherwood again reiterated that she has a problem with gifts that have stipulations.

“If someone said that they would give us $5 million to the football field, would you have a problem with that?” fellow board member Dr. Lawrence Varner asked Leatherwood.

“I think I—no I probably wouldn’t because that’s—” she began.

“But they’re not giving it to the soccer field,” Dr. Varner said.

“But they are giving it for something that’s going to benefit the whole school,” Leatherwood began.

Dr. Varner interrupted her midsentence, “It’s not fair to the soccer field.”

“Yes, it is,” Leatherwood cited.

“Or the baseball field,” Varner continued.

Leatherwood offered they use the same thing.

“It’s not the same,” Dr. Varner said.

Leatherwood would later comment, “If we can’t meet his requirements for the gift then I don’t see how we have a choice, really.”

School board member Susan Lawman, however, would note that some of the requirements they have to do any way.

The $10,000, it was cited in August, was not projected to be enough to fund all of the requests, even minus the funding for incentives for student performance. School administrators had figured a projected cost of over $25,000 for the AP program. Still, with or without the donation, the AP courses (which currently include offerings in English language, English literature and composition, calculus, statistics, biology, chemistry and Virginia/US history) would continue. Dr. Smith explained at that meeting that it would not have an effect of their offering of AP classes; that, he said, would be an enrollment-based decision.

The gift would have supported the AP program in the wake of an ending regional grant that began in 2008. That program had also included an incentive for teachers for students achieving passing AP test scores of a three-five. AP passing scores are accepted at most major universities, effectively rewarding students with credits toward a degree.

The board had discussed the matter at length last month and considered a single motion (not several motions as incorrectly reported last week) before agreeing to go back and ask the donor to consider the donation without the incentives for teachers.

At the end of the latest discussion, Leatherwood offered a motion to return the gift, which was approved on the 4-3 vote. Leatherwood, Dr. Timothy Corbett, Beulah Womack, and Thomas voted to return the gift; Dove, Dr. Varner and Lawman opposed.