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Spotsylvania School Board to debate conference costs

By PAMELA GOULD, The Free Lance-Star

Nine months after the Spotsylvania School Board revised its expense policy to address concerns over a board chairman’s practice of billing the county for near-daily trips to central office, current leadership wants the policy revisited.

Board Chairwoman Linda Wieland and Vice Chairman Jim Meyer said they believe the policy approved on March 1 is too restrictive.

It authorizes only two of the board’s seven members to attend any training or conference at taxpayers’ expense. Those two are then to report back to the others what they learned.

Wieland and Meyer placed the proposed change on the agenda for Monday night’s meeting in hopes that additional members could attend a Virginia School Boards Association event Jan. 23–24 in Richmond.

They said the change is needed now to avoid  incurring late fees for registration.

However, board member Ray Lora said he’s outraged at the idea of spending additional tax dollars on board members at a time when the school division is facing a $7.9 million deficit for the next budget.

“We have to show leadership. We have to show our teachers, our bus drivers, our cafeteria workers that we care,” Lora said. “We’re not going to go out here and spend money just because we can.  We have to show restraint.”

Meyer and Wieland said all board members should be able to take part in professional development to be consistent with the division’s strategic plan.

“If our objective is to develop professional learning communities [in the division], our board needs to be modeling that,” Meyer said.

“If it’s a priority, we need to identify the funding for our priority,” he added.

But that goes to the heart of Lora’s objection.

He said the additional money that would be spent on conferences and travel would be enough to pay for a teacher, or at least several bus drivers.

“If I have extra money, I would rather give it to the homeless kids,” he said.

Wieland and Meyer  said they would like to see all board members have the opportunity to attend the annual VSBA convention held in Williamsburg each November.

This year, the division paid for two board members. Wieland and Meyer went because they are the board’s leadership. Board member Dawn Shelley attended at her own expense.

Wieland first said the Williamsburg event would not add expenses because the cost was already budgeted, but then acknowledged the deficit and this year’s savings by sending fewer people.

She said she didn’t want taxpayers to get the impression the board was going to spend lavishly, only that it wanted the flexibility to send more than two people to conferences when it was warranted.

Board members are paid $12,000 annually. Five of the seven are retired. Shelley is a teacher. The seventh quit her job to raise a family.

Approving the policy change could have broad implications as the division seeks support in addressing another budget shortfall, Lora said.

“It’s not going to help our relationship with the Board of Supervisors. It’s not going to help our relationship with the taxpayers. It’s not going to help our relationship with our employees,” he said. “There’s no reason for us even to be discussing it.”

 He said he will make a motion on Monday to table the matter indefinitely.

WANT TO GO?

The Spotsylvania School Board meets at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the administration building, 8020 River Stone Drive in the Massaponax area.

Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972

pgould@freelancestar.com

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