Thursday, March 27, 2008

Pocahontas High: How to Close a School (in 90 Minutes or Less)

Note: Visit my education blog, The Green Cup

This won't be very long because the truth is that I'm tired...

I attended the continued meeting of the Tazewell County School Board this evening and some questions were answered - kind of.

One question that got answered was how much will be saved by closing Pocahontas High School. Between $1.5 million and $1.8 million, according to Dr. Brenda Lawson, who said she was willing to stake her job on that figure. We weren't allowed as citizens to actually examine the financial numbers. They were mostly read to us, but not until after we'd been dazzled by a gajillion other statistics, so that the average person was "number numb" by the time money got discussed. The problem I saw (I should say "heard") was that "savings" seemed to be defined based on the amount of the PHS budget while most teachers at the school (about 85% of the costs) will simply be transferred to other schools. That's not savings; that's sleight of hand...

Another question that was answered: how is efficiency measured? I talked here about the Virginia Code passage that School Board chairman Mike Dennis read earlier this month when the public hearing was opened. Closing a school is supposed to "contribute to the efficiency of the school division." Efficiency (or the lack of it, at least) was defined tonight. It is disproportionate cost per student. That cost is determined by taking a school's budget and dividing it by the number of students at that school - a process obviously slanted against the county's smaller schools. I hope to have a chart next week some time for you of the cost per student at the county's remaining schools.

I find it difficult to believe that Board members really considered the numbers with any seriousness. I can't understand why the numbers weren't made available to the public before it came to a closure vote. But that's what happens: the first indications that there'd been any math done on the school closure came an hour or less before the vote to close the school. That might be legal, but it's not ethical. It's not open government.

School Board Member David Woodard correctly stated that the process of closing a school ought to take month. Instead, closing Pocahontas High took a few weeks.

Two final notes...

The award for most naïve person in the room goes to board member Steve Davis. Steve told the crowd that he had to take Dr. Lawson's numbers at face value, had to trust them. Wake up Steve! Assuming the best about Dr. Lawson's intentions, everybody occasionally makes a mistake (and having a doctorate doesn't make you immune to that). So Dr. Lawson's best work could have problems and you were elected to look at those numbers.

And the pettiest moment of the night was the refusal to allow State Delegate Dan Bowling to speak. Bowling was in Richmond during the public hearing - fighting to get the school board money in the state budget process. Chairman Mike Dennis didn't want to let Bowling speak tonight because he was "just a citizen" at the meeting and the Board didn't want to reopen public comment. I think we'd have been safe to allow all state delegates present the opportunity to speak. I used to like Mike. Oh well...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Certification Update

Note: Visit my education blog, The Green Cup

I received word today that the West Virginia Department of Education recognized my Georgia certification. So I am now licensed in West Virginia in middle school math and social studies, K-6 elementary education, pre-K, and special education (moderately and mildly mentally impaired, learning disabilities, and behavior disorders)

We're discussing autism, and I hope to be licensed in autism in West Virginia shortly.

On Saturday I take the test for K-12 reading in Georgia...

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Brian Martin Tells Crowd, Iraq Vet to Freeze (GOP Mass Meeting Looks Like a Fiasco)

A friend of mine sent me a link to a YouTube video last night. In the video Pat Wade (papers in her arms), a local GOP functionary, is speaking to a group of people outside the site of the recent GOP Mass Meeting here in Tazewell County. Brian Martin (grey jacket, hands in pockets), a former member of the Tazewell County Electoral Board, seems to be serving as something like her unofficial sergeant at arms while she calls out the names of individuals who have been declared qualified to enter the meeting. Then she explains to a crowd that they are being excluded and will not be allowed back in the building.

Before I go on, let's watch the first of two videos...

I feel a little empathy for Ms. Wade. I was on the Credentials Committee at the Democratic Party's Mass Meeting last fall when dozens of unexpected people showed up to support Spot Steele's effort to knock Bill Rasnick out of the nomination for the Board of Supervisors here in Tazewell County. It took an hour longer than normal to process all the paper work. When we locked the doors at 7pm, over a hundred people were still in line. Many of the people were completely new to the political process and unprepared for the time involved with such a process. We coped. We were polite, maybe even professional (I might be biased). So I have some empathy for Ms. Wade. Just a little, though...

The gentleman asking questions appears to be Richlands attorney Shea Cook. After you know that, the dialogue becomes more ironic. Shea was once the GOP nominee for Commonwealth Attorney here in Tazewell County and for the Virginia House of Delegates, I think. He just recently returned from a stint with the Army in Iraq. Now they won't even let the poor guy into the building for a party meeting. What's up with that? (Maybe he got in to speak later, but I doubt it. And this would be a good time for me to point out that I wasn't there; I just know what I've seen on the YouTube videos.)

My guess is that the organizational meltdown started early. People seem to have been let into the meeting area ahead of time; they picked seats and threw their coats on them - never dreaming they'd eventually be locked out of the meeting. There seems to be questions about the public notice process; an attorney (Cook) is asking the questions and they don't get answered in either of the videos.

My favorite part of the whole thing, though, is Brian Martin at the end of the first video. Cook asks if the people being excluded will be allowed to at least gather their possession back up that they left inside...
Cook: Are we going to be afforded the opportunity to get our coat or are we going to sit out here and freeze.
Martin: I believe that ya'll are not sitting delegates. I'm sorry.
Cook: Well, are we going to be permitted to come back in and get our coats?
Martin: Nope. You should have brought 'em out.
The crowd begins to cackle. And to my ears Brian Martin didn't sound too sincere when he said he was sorry that Shea Cook and the others weren't sitting delegates. He even seems willing to let them freeze to death. But what do I know...

Eventually, Pat Wade comes back out to explain to the crowd why their paperwork was rejected. We learn that she doesn't take heckling well.

One of the people present was Jim Talbert of Clinch Valley News fame. Since he seems to be taking notes in a fast and furious manner, it will be interesting to read his coverage of the event and compare it to the videos.

In any event, I think the county's Democrats can look back on their party's mass meeting the past fall with a little more pride. It was hectic and tense, but we handled it. There's also someone (the loser) who doesn't like the outcome. But almost everyone got to participate. By contrast, the GOP seems to have had a meltdown over much the same situation. Pat Wade's responses in dealing with the general public there don't make her look much like a public servant. And Brian Martin comes across as, well, snide.

Red Virginia has a news story on the scandal and claims that only 27 the 137 people who showed up were allowed into the meeting. Makes you wonder about the rumor that GOP members in Tazewell County eat their young...