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Fluvanna schools earn full accreditation four years in a row
Bus request sparks debate

Fluvanna County Public Schools are fully accredited for the fourth year in a row.

That makes the school system one of only 22 in the state that can make the same claim, Superintendent Chuck Winkler told the School Board at its meeting Wednesday (Sept. 13).

Not only that, but Fluvanna’s teacher of the year was chosen as one of only eight regional winners in the state.

Everyone agreed there’s a lot to celebrate.

But not so fast. 

What has been an almost rubber-stamp request for the past 10 years brought much questioning from Board member Charles Rittenhouse (Cunningham). 

Each year the Fluvanna Leadership Development Program (FLDP) provides a tour of the county for its participants. The FLDP rents one of the school buses to conduct the Saturday tour. Often the bus driver donates his or her time. 

But likely due to December’s controversy surrounding Board member Camilla Washington’s husband Ryant Washington, former sheriff and then-candidate for state senator, Rittenhouse asked plenty of questions about the FLDP trip. In December, candidate Ryant Washington rented a school bus to provide transportation for supporters to a caucus in Farmville.

Back then, Rittenhouse questioned the wisdom and legality of the school system renting a bus to a partisan group for a political purpose. 

In the spring, the Board clarified the wording of who can rent a school bus, for what purpose and who grants bus rental requests. 

In response to Rittenhouse’s questions Wednesday, Winkler assured the Board the FLDP is not a political entity. It is a group of people who pay a small fee to learn more about all aspects of life in Fluvanna. Since the first class in 2003, more than 280 people have participated in the program.

Rittenhouse’s questions didn’t stop there. 

Later in the meeting, he asked Winkler to provide the Board with a comprehensive list of the number of buses the schools own, the buses’ ages, the number of cars the schools own, their model years, names of those who drive those cars, the average daily mileage put on the cars, the total dollar amount spent yearly on gas and diesel, and the percentage of that fuel that is used to transport students.

As Winkler took down Rittenhouse’s request, he said much of the information would be easy to retrieve, but he didn’t know if he could glean the amount of fuel spent solely on transporting children. 

During the discussion, Board Chair Carol Carr (Rivanna) and Vice Chair Camilla Washington (Columbia) asked Rittenhouse why he wanted the information. 

“What is it showing you?” Carr asked. 

“I just want the information,” Rittenhouse said. 

“How will the Board use the information?” Washington asked.

Rittenhouse said, “I just want to know how much is spent on students. I thought the information was readily available.”

Carr said she was concerned fulfilling Rittenhouse’s request would cause the administration to spend time on it at the expense of more pressing matters.

“How burdensome is that?” Carr asked Winkler. “You’ve done such a good job of paring down the administrative staff; I hate to see you spend a lot of time getting at this.”

Winkler assured Carr he would do his best to get all the information Rittenhouse requested, though he admitted it will take hours. 

Rittenhouse also asked Winkler to provide the Board with the cost of programs for economically disadvantaged students.

In a discussion about what dues and membership fees the schools pay for principals, assistant principals and teachers, Board member Perrie Johnson (Fork Union) questioned paying for principals’ and assistant principals’ membership dues to their professional organizations when teachers’ education association dues aren’t covered. 

“Don’t get me wrong, I’d like to pay it for principals, assistant principals and all full-time teachers but I know we can’t,” Johnson said. 

Rittenhouse agreed. “I find Ms. Johnson’s argument compelling,” he said. “If you’re doing something to further your education, pay it yourself and deduct it on your taxes.”

The Board voted to pay for all the dues on the list, including a couple of music association and other dues, except the ones for principals and assistant principals.

All but Board member Brenda Pace (Palmyra) voted for Rittenhouse’s request for vehicle and program information.

The Board also voted unanimously to allow high school biology teacher Feda Morton to take students on a trip to Costa Rica in June, Jennings to take students to the Future Farmers of America convention in Indianapolis in October and Michael Strickler to take band students to Disney World in April.

School surplus

The final numbers for fiscal year 2017 (FY17) are in and for a variety of reasons the schools end the year with a $1.6 million surplus, said Brenda Gilliam, executive director in charge of curriculum instruction and finance.

"This is a complex issue," Gilliam said in an email. "Of the $1.6 million, $434,000 is carryover of grant funds from federal and state resources. Approximately $200,000 was for items not received until after the June 30 cut off for the fiscal year. There were several revenue sources that totaled almost $500,000 that we were not informed of until late in the fiscal year which made it difficult to expend these funds."

The schools sent a request to the county Aug. 31 to carry over $639,656 of the local money into FY18. Of that total, $400,000 would go toward buses, technology and vehicles, and $239,656 would funnel into the FY18 general operating budget. The remaining $598,828 would be returned to the county.

Gilliam said the county will let them know in late October or early November.

"With all of these factors considered, we had approximately $500,000 remaining,” Gilliam wrote. “Because schools are not legally permitted to exceed their expenditure authority, it is best practice to maintain a balance of 1 to 3 percent in operating funds at the end of the fiscal year. We were well within this practice at the end of the year.”