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Stafford sets priorities for school chief

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School Superintendent Bruce Benson got his official marching orders from the Stafford County School Board at a work session last week.

Benson will concentrate on three main things: compensation and benefits, how the schools are using their resources and examining the instructional programs that the schools offer, especially at the high school level.

Much of the board members’ focus at the Thursday work session turned to evaluation of programs, a part of the budget that School Board members said that they have been in the dark about.

“I’ve never seen an evaluation from any of these programs. A lot of times they start out good, they start out with a grant, but there is never an evaluation,” School Board member Patricia Healy said.

Healy said the analysis should drill down into the questions of whether the school system has too much on its plate.

“One of the things that school systems are good at is adding things. We are not so good at evaluating programs and taking things off our plate,” Benson told the Board of Supervisors while giving supervisors an update of the school system at their July 1 meeting.

School Board member Irene Egan asked if there was a way to implement a mechanism that would alert school staff when the grant funding has run out.

“There’s no accounting for after the grant funding is gone,” Egan said.

The International Baccalaureate Program and the Stafford Academy for Technology were two of several programs that School Board members said they feel need to be evaluated.

But Benson’s analysis will cast a wider net and produce a list of all the programs that the schools offer. In addition, he will provide a cost analysis of those programs, including how they were originally funded and how they are currently funded, among other things.

Benson will also look at how the school system is using its resources, which may answer one question Healy said she has been asking for years.

“Why do we have the same amount of support staff for a school of 900 versus a school of 500?” Healy asked. “That means someone is getting better service, which doesn’t seem equitable.”

The School Board is also expected to get a class-size analysis in September or early October. Benson told the Board of Supervisors at their July 1 meeting that that such a level of analysis has not been done before. But, he said, his staff has not been asked for that kind of analysis.

“We have asked many times,” Supervisor Cord Sterling said at that July 1 meeting.

Benson has already started working on looking at compensation and benefits. He said Thursday that his analysis of Stafford schools’ compensation and benefits with comparable school divisions is close to being finished.

The board recently adopted a set of school divisions to which they will compare themselves. Spotsylvania, Prince William, Loudoun and Henrico counties are some of those divisions.

Benson may make some of his analysis public as early as the start of school. He said Thursday that he may talk about the research in his remarks that will come with the opening of schools.

Benson said his goal is to have “compensation strategies” ready for implementation in fiscal 2016, which will begin next July.

Compensation and benefits was one of several things put on a priority list that the School Board created at a recent retreat.

From fiscal 2010 to the fiscal year that ended June 30, the schools have given a 2.5 percent average step increase in salaries three times.

Vanessa Remmers: 540/735-1975

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