Red Apple Mom

April 29, 2011

Judge Rules on Email Exemption for Superintendent

Attorneys representing Clifton parent Jill D. Hill, the plaintiff who is suing the Fairfax County School Board over Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) violations, left Fairfax County Circuit Court today with a small victory.  

The judge heard arguments today from both sides in the case about whether redacted email communications between Dr. Dale and School Board members should be released.

Attorneys for Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) have argued for months that the Superintendent’s communications fall under the executive privilege exemption.

Today they lost that argument all because of two little letters and a colon sign – “cc:” 

Judge Leslie Alden ruled today that simply “cc’ing” the superintendent did not make an FCPS email exchange exempt.  She concluded that once an email goes beyond a correspondent and the CEO of the school system – Superintendent Dale – the email loses the exemption under executive privilege.

In other words, once several School Board members were also copied, the email then became School Board material.  Simply having Superintendent Dale copied on the email does not provide it with exemption protection.

The judge warned the plaintiff’s attorney, “There is nothing in these documents that I have seen that makes a hill’s beans of difference [in this case].”   The judge later added, “What may mean nothing to me may mean something to you.”

FCPS’ attorney, Tom Cawley of Hunton & Williams, also commented that the redacted emails FCPS claimed under executive privilege are essentially, “innocuous.”

Plaintiff’s attorney Michael Guiffre of Patton Boggs stated after the hearing, “To the extent they [the FCPS School Board] are saying those emails are meaningless, they could have given them up in the beginning and saved thousands of taxpayer dollars in legal fees.”

Indeed Mr. Guiffre.  Indeed.

A final ruling in the case of Jill D. Hill versus the Fairfax County School Board is expected any day now.

April 28, 2011

Restore the Honors Courses

I don’t know how many more questionable policy-making decisions I can take from FCPS.

The latest?  The gradual elimination that has taken place of most English & Social Studies Honors level courses for 10th, 11th and 12th graders when there is a corresponding AP course offered.  FCPS has been conducting this phase-out over a number of years.  No one really noticed it was happening. Only recently did the popular documentary, “Race to Nowhere” get a lot of people asking where all the Honors classes had gone.

These honors courses need to be restored.

Never mind that this decision to eliminate these courses appears to have been made without a definitive vote by the School Board.  Never mind that the “evidence” FCPS’ Department of Instructional Services has produced to “justify” this decision appears to be a misinterpretation of the data.

The bigger concerns here are the negative impact on FCPS student achievement and college admissions opportunities.

Elimination of these courses, which include English Honors 11, English Honors 12, World History Geography 2, US History Honors and Government Honors, means our high school students have limited curriculum choices.  They can take a Gen Ed course which many students find less challenging and not as rigorous as the Honors option –  or they can load up on AP classes – whether they are ready and capable or not.

Equally high performing and competitive school districts in our area  – including Montgomery, Howard and Loudoun counties offer their students a 3-tiered curriculum that includes these English and Social Studies Honors courses.

So why is FCPS making decisions that in effect make our students less competitive?

FCPS’ 2-tier curriculum is like a restaurant menu that offers only two choices –a plate of rice or a plate of meat.

Where are the vegetables?

You need the vegetables.

Students deserve the additional choice of Honors course options for the challenging educational value they provide.

FCPS School Board Chair Kathy Smith disagrees.

Yesterday, Smith told WAMU-88.5 public radio station reporter Jonathan Wilson “I think we are better served – when a kid has a choice and wants to take a more rigorous course – if we can put them in an AP class.  It’s been proven through studies that those kids are more successful in college.”

Smith doesn’t seem to grasp that not everyone is ready for an AP course.  Importantly, not every student is capable of taking 4-5 AP courses in one year either.  Even FCPS recommends that students take no more than 2-3 AP courses per year.

FAIRGRADE and another parent advocacy group called Restore Honors Courses (RHC) recently learned that at Woodson High School, the data demonstrates students who formerly were taking Honors courses are now choosing Gen Ed classes over AP when the Honors option is no longer available.

Does FCPS know if this is happening in the rest of our high schools too?   And why are parents and teachers doing the research and compiling the data that FCPS administrators should have done a long time ago?!

Here’s another aspect of this issue to consider:  Remember how hard the community fought alongside FAIRGRADE to gain the extra 0.50 GPA weight for Honors courses?  The removal of these Honors courses means that the student who doesn’t want to take the college level AP course only has the option for the Gen Ed version now – and Gen Ed classes don’t get extra GPA weighting.  That results in a less competitive kid when college admissions officers are looking for academic rigor on a student’s transcript and top GPAs for merit scholarships.

School Board – I hope you’ll reverse this decline of our curriculum offerings and restore these five Honors courses or we may see students submitting letters like this with their college applications:

“Dear College Admissions Officer,

FCPS doesn’t offer a three-tiered curriculum like equally competitive school districts.  My only choice was to stress out and take a full load of 4 or more AP courses, which FCPS by the way discourages, or taking Gen Ed courses. 

As I tried to balance my weekend job, school and sports schedule in order to be a sane, well-prepared student, I took FCPS’ recommendation of only taking 2-3 AP courses. 

Please do not be misled by the lack of rigor on my transcript.  If there had been an Honors course alternative, I could have and would have taken it.  Of course I would have had a higher GPA then too. 

I’m sure you understand.  After all, EVERYONE does know how great Fairfax County Public Schools are right?”

April 12, 2011

Hooray Hooray for FDK & … an FCPS Audit?

The Board of Supervisors pulled an interesting play today by approving the following “independent auditor” amendment proposed by Supervisor Pat Herrity:

The Board of Supervisors encourages the Fairfax County School Board

to establish an independent auditor position that would report directly

to the School Board.  The Board of Supervisors has had an

independent auditor since the 1990s and their work has saved millions of

taxpayer dollars and resulted in more efficient delivery of services.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors

An independent auditor for Fairfax County Public Schools? When can they start?! If the bi-partisan Board of Supervisors could agree on this common-sense idea, then certainly our School Board can too.  Let’s find out where that $2.2 Billion FCPS budget really goes!

Full-Day Kindergarten advocates should be happy too.  The Board of Supervisors forked over about half of the money needed to complete the FDK roll-out that FCPS never finished – mostly in the form of telling FCPS where to find the money in FCPS’ own budget.

Where is it coming from?

  • There’s $500,000 savings in the county-run SACC (school age child care) program.  This year’s half-day kindergarteners will be next year’s full-day kindergarteners who won’t need afternoon day care – so bingo – there’s 500K in immediate savings.
  • There’s also $641,904 in Cox Cable funding that Supervisors are telling the School Board they can put towards FDK instead.  This may mean the end to a majority of the useless programming that nobody watches on FCPS’ Red Apple Channel 21. One could argue that School Board meetings probably get a decent audience share.  But if you’ve seen the amateur FCPS “talk shows” hosted by FCPS administrators who just love to see themselves on television, then you’ll agree that money is waaaaaayyyyy better spent on educating kindergartners.  It would be most embarrassing if the School Board turns down this idea!
  • Supervisors also identified another $1.9 million in funding for the School Nurse Health Program that they will permit FCPS to use for FDK.  It will be interesting to see how this idea sits with School Board members.  It’s kind of like your rich old uncle giving you a wad of cash for your birthday and telling you to buy a present for your brother or sister with it.  It really isn’t a gift is it?  That’s how I feel about this proposal.  

If using this money for FDK means we lose even more school nurses, then it’s a no-go in my book.  In recent years, school nurses have already taken a large hit as a result of budget cuts. As it stands, there is only one school nurse for every 3000 FCPS students.  FCPS should find the funds for FDK elsewhere instead.

The budget battle now turns to the School Board.  How and where will they come up with the remaining funds for FDK?  How and where will they come up with the funds for the employee raises they’ve promised?  This could be a bumpy ride.

Related Articles:

Fairfax Eyes Cutting School Health Services to Fund Full-Day Kindergarten (The Washington Examiner, 4.2.11)

Fairfax County Budget Increases Fees, Cuts Spending Slighting (The Washington Post 4.12.11)

County Sets Real Estate Tax Rate at $1.07 (The Fairfax County Times 4.12.11)

Fairfax Supervisors Won’t Support Teacher Raises (The Washington Examiner 10.24.10)

© Catherine Lorenze and Red Apple Mom, 2001. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Catherine Lorenze and Red Apple Mom with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

April 9, 2011

Serving Up Some Crow For FCPS Officials on School Renovations & Additions

Remember the scathing editorial School Board member Liz Bradsher wrote last October in the Fairfax Times?  It’s the one where she attacked a parent who raised important questions about FCPS’ renovation queue relative to FCPS’ closure of Clifton ES.

Liz Bradsher

Bradsher’s editorial titled “Don’t Let the Facts Get In the Way of a Good Op Ed” specifically stated:  “…Clifton Elementary School has 366 students and all students can be moved to successful nearby schools without the necessity of additions or renovations.

Well, well, well.  Look out Ms. Bradsher –looks like some multi-million dollar facts are getting “in the way.” You told parents and taxpayers that additions and renovations weren’t needed.   The FCPS Proposed 2011 School Bond Referendum tells a different story.

The proposed 2011 bond, released by FCPS last week, shows $13.7 million  for “additions and renovations” to schools that Clifton ES students will now be transferred to.

Among the proposed bond projects include:

Fairfax Villa ES (6 rooms) $ 3,129,294

Greenbriar East ES (9 rooms) $ 3,889,687

Union Mill ES (8 rooms) $ 3,419,715

Modular Relocations $ 3,250,000

Capacity Enhancement Subtotal: $ 13,688,696

Ready to eat some crow Ms. Bradsher?

Save some for FCPS Chief Operation Officer for Facilities Planning Dean Tistadt.

Dean Tistadt

Back in October, Tistadt told concerned parents and taxpayers at a SW Boundary study meeting that FCPS already had money for any projects that might be needed as the result of shifting students from Clifton ES to new schools.

“We actually have a great deal of money in what we call the “construction reserve,” Tistadt is quoted in the Centreville Patch.   The Patch quotes Tistadt saying that the funds were left over from previous bond referendums.  “According to law, that money can be spent on any capital project,” said Tistadt.

So FCPS, if you already have leftover bond money , why are you sticking taxpayers with an additional proposed $13.7 million tab on the 2011 Bond? 

And if you already have leftover bond money, why the delay in jumpstarting much needed renovations at FCPS’ legacy high schools like Langley and West Springfield who have languished in the renovation queue for way too long?!

I smell the need for a serious audit of FCPS’ budget.  Board of Supervisors, are you listening?

© Catherine Lorenze and Red Apple Mom, 2001. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Catherine Lorenze and Red Apple Mom with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

April 7, 2011

School Board Member Janie Strauss’ Sanctimonious Stretch

Check out Robert McCartney’s terrific column today in the Washington Post titled: Fairfax Schools Are Right to Relax Discipline Policies.”

Jane Strauss-Generation "Out of Touch"

Generation "Out of Touch" School Board Member Jane Strauss (1995-current)

In this article, School Board member Janie Strauss once again positions herself as the “generational expert” on all things academic – this time conjecturing that Baby Boomers and Gen Xers have different attitudes about the Fairfax County Discipline Policy.

If this doesn’t qualify as a sanctimonious stretch, then we may have to rewrite the definition of sanctimonious.

People of all ages who know I’m a parent advocate continue to approach me wanting to discuss the ongoing news headlines about the discipline issue.  There is no generational “gap” in these exchanges – just a common reaction of disgust that it has taken two student deaths to waken the school system from their torpor.

The public’s desire for change has NOTHING to do with being a Baby Boomer or a Gen Xer.

It has everything to do with the perception that students in Fairfax County Public Schools have fewer rights than prisoners at Guantanamo.

It’s about the reality that anyone’s child could become one of FCPS’ next “victims.”

It’s about School Board members like Jane Strauss who remain completely out of touch on what this issue is really about – fairness!

At Monday’s work session, School Board member Sandy Evans advocated that parents need to be brought into the discipline process sooner saying, “Students confess and sign written statements before parents are called.”

One of the participating principals replied, “Is that a bad thing?

Yes principal that is a bad thing.  Here in America, confessing and signing a written statement under coercion or pressure without representation is a problem for most people who want to see justice applied.

I come from a law and order family, so I’m not soft on the safe schools issue.

My father spent years as an undercover narcotics agent in Detroit.  He’s worked in schools, busted drug dealers and disrupted gangs.  He’s literally seen it all.  Now in retirement, he accompanies my mom who teaches art to “troubled youth” at an alternative high school in Knoxville, TN.

Even my tough guy dad says he finds FCPS’ discipline policies disturbing – particularly the lack of immediate parental notification.

So let’s end this silly and unproductive academic exercise about Baby Boomers versus Gen X, Y or Z right here and now.  This debate is about fairness to students and putting some checks and balances on overreaching disciplinary policies and power-hungry FCPS officials.

Oh, and look – here.  FCPS is advertising in the Washington Post to hire another hearing officer.  Starting salary is $64,826 for the US27 position.  I’m guessing interested parties with common sense and a heart need not apply.

Sidenote: Kudos to the Fairfax County Council of PTAs who passed a FCCPTA Parental Notification Resolution Monday night.  A Fairfax Education Coalition (FEC) member who attended the FCCPTA meeting reported that FCPS Assistant Superintendent Barbara Hunter, who is with the Department of Communications and Community Outreach, cast the ONLY NAY VOTE for this clause in the FCCPTA parental notification resolution: RESOLVED:  The FCCPTA Executive Board supports changes in the FCPS discipline process to prevent students from signing or executing any written statements except in the presence of a parent or guardian.

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