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February 26, 2012 Published in Letters/Opinions

Back to the Future?

Dear Editor:

This year the Alexandria City School Board developed the following mission statement which is prominently displayed on their webpage.

“The Alexandria City School Board will ensure that ALL students reach their highest academic potential, and that they are prepared for citizenship, higher education and the workforce. To accomplish this goal, we will make policy, budget and leadership decisions that are aligned with our Vision and Strategic Plan; and we will communicate with and involve stakeholders actively and transparently.”

After watching the actions of the board as they deliberated over their fiscal year 2013 budget, particularly the final stages of the add/delete process, I believe the board is failing to accomplish its self-described mission and falling short in its responsibilities as a Virginia School Board.

In early 2009 the board adopted its strategic plan. Superintendent Sherman developed a complementary Education Plan to guide implementation of the board’s strategic objectives. All indications to me were that the board supported the Education Plan. The Superintendent then proposed a budget that took into account the two plans, other direction provided by the board, and the economic realities facing the City of Alexandria - a city that has a history of supporting public education.

The actions of the board in the final two weeks of their budget deliberations reflect a school board which believes it - not the superintendent - is the educational leader of the school district. They went to great effort in their attempts to overturn the superintendent’s recommendations regarding educational programs and associated staffing. Several of the decisions appear to be based on political - not educational - considerations. This is a perilous path for any school board to take.

Last Thursday evening the board approved their 2013 operating budget of $215,168,668. This includes a 3.3 percent increase in city-appropriated funding over last year. School board chairman Sheryl Gorsuch said, “This was a difficult budget, but we are proud of what we are able to achieve."

I don’t share that sense of pride. Having been involved with ACPS and school board activities for most of the past 17 years, including a 2006-2009 term on the board, I believe Alexandria needs to revisit its decision to move from an appointed to an elected school board.

While there are pros and cons to both methods of selecting school board members, Alexandria can - and needs - to do better for our children and the taxpayers. While it’s too late to impact the November school board elections, the discussion should begin soon. Perhaps this is an issue to put before City Council candidates?

Scott Newsham

Former member of the Alexandria City School Board

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