City Council Probes School Board Over Fiscal Matters
At joint work session Wednesday night, council seeks answers to school system's money situation.
“Show me the money” was as much a recurring theme as “just where did that money go” at the Wednesday night work session between City Council and the School Board.
Councilman Frank Fannon questioned the efficacy of the school system possibly expanding its pre-kindergarten program when Alexandria City Public Schools already has financial and space constraints. The city currently has a wait list of about 95 4-year-olds for the pre-K program.
“Every time we turn around, there’s a new initiative that's happening,” he said, mentioning that he recently took seven teachers out to lunch to hear their concerns. Teachers want a focus on putting more things in the classroom and some basics rather than introducing new plans, according to Fannon. “There’s too many initiatives coming down. … I don’t have kids, and I’m not in special education. This is my global view,” he said.
Board Vice Chairwoman Helen Morris pointed out that there are no new initiatives in the proposed budget, but extensions of programs that began as part of a three-year plan.
Councilman Rob Krupicka came to the school system’s defense and explained that ACPS is playing catch-up to many other neighboring school districts. “Montgomery County has been doing things for years that Alexandria is trying to implement now” such as preschool and new curriculum, he said.
“If we don’t add to the list, we’re just implementing,” said Krupicka, acknowledging that implementation can be frustrating.
Fannon pointed out that 12 percent of Alexandria households have kids in the schools, but ACPS is 32 percent of the city’s budget.
“This council has to have confidence in how this money is being spent,” he said.
The participants also brought up the recently prickly issue of sheltered annuities given to senior-level ACPS staff.
“Some board members were not aware of these annuities,” Fannon said, adding that it’s a problem when the School Board “doesn’t know where the money is going and how it’s happening.”
The Education Association of Alexandria recently posted on its website senior ACPS staff salaries. The Freedom of Information Act request revealed that many of them receive sizeable annuities. For example, Deputy Superintendent Margaret Byess has an annual salary of $167,000 and receives a sheltered annuity of $20,000, according to the information posted.
School Board member Arthur Peabody said current budgets have received commendations from accredited bodies and the last audit conducted by a third party was “completely clean, no deficiencies. … I don’t think you’ll catch every glitch.”
However, Peabody did express concern with the salaries of the superintendent’s top staff. “We hold him responsible for how he runs the school system,” he said.
Fannon said the city had suffered from too many incidents of “rogue” city employees. “If a homeowner is writing us a check for $6,600 every year for a single family home and they don't have any kids, they want to know what they’re getting,” he said.
A statement from Superintendent Morton Sherman was read in his absence as he recovers from hip replacement surgery. In it, Sherman said he shares the frustration expressed by City Council. He expects a final audit report on the mismanaged budget next week, which will be shared with the board March 8 and released to the community March 9.