Gainesville school board member Alyson Satterwhite defended the Jan. 4 special meeting of the Prince William County School Board and the vote to accept $21.2 million in funding for new Prince William school construction during school board members’ time at the Feb. 1 meeting.
The money was offered by the Prince William Board of County Supervisors. Half was to be used for building a bigger, more modern 13th high school in Bristow and an equal amount to help acquire land, build an elementary school or school addition on the eastern side of the county.
The high school would help to eliminate overcrowding in high schools in her district as well as in the Brentsville District.
Satterwhite was recovering from surgery Jan. 18 when the board voted 4-3 without her consent to override the vote taken at the previous special meeting since the chairman claimed it was improperly conducted.
Feb. 1, Satterwhite argued that the special meeting and the vote it yielded were conducted legally and in accordance with policy. She said, however, the attempt to override the meeting was in disregard of Roberts Rules of Order and the Freedom of Information Act since all records of the meeting have been removed from public access.
She called out Prince William School Board Chairman At-large Ryan Sawyers for holding a subsequent vote while she was absent because she was recovering from surgery, and accused school board members [Sawyers, Lillie Jessie (Occoquan) and Loree Williams (Woodbridge)], who joined him in sending a letter in protest to the Department of Justice, of costing the school division money that should have been spent on the students.
She asked residents to call their school board members and ask that the video recordings of the special meeting be returned to the website for viewing.
Now on to recent school board events. Most of you know that I missed the January 18th school board meeting due to my January 10th total knee replacement surgery. Mr. Sawyers even checked to make sure that I would not be in attendance at the last meeting just before the meeting began.
I watched most of the meeting live from home. I watched as Mr. Sawyers pulled the minutes from the January 4th meeting and special meeting from the consent agenda and later offered an amendment to the motion, an amendment that the school board did not receive prior notice of and was not published with the meeting agenda.
In my opinion, and that of many others with whom I have consulted, the attempt by Mr. Sawyers to “strike the improper special meeting,” and associated votes from the record is a void motion. Why? A couple of reasons.
If Mr. Sawyers was truly attempting to rescind the vote from the January 4 meeting by adding the amendment to the motion at the meeting, Roberts Rules requires a 2/3 vote, which would have been five votes, to pass. Mr. Sawyers only had four votes out of the seven members in attendance.
Additionally, the code of Virginia in Section 2.2-3707 under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act states that “Minutes, including draft minutes, and all other records of open meetings, including audio or audio/visual records shall be deemed public records and subject to the provisions of this chapter.”
Nowhere does code allow for the destruction of those records.
I would suggest to those in the public who are looking for the January 4th special meeting on our website, and can’t find it, that you email the school board and ask that it be restored as soon as possible.
There has been a lot of confusion in the public since the January 18th meeting with people wondering about the impact the actions of the chairman have on the vote taken on January 4th at the special meeting.
Legally, the motion approved by this board on January 4th at the special meeting stands. Nothing Mr. Sawyers attempted at the January 18th meeting has changed the legal vote at the legally held special meeting on January 4th.
Mr. Sawyers clearly didn’t agree with the special meeting, but that does not make it any less legal. Mr. Sawyers had tried numerous times to stop the special meeting from happening, to stop the vote, and now his attempt to erase the meeting and the vote.
I still want to know why an offer of $21.2 million in construction funding that will benefit our students is so unsettling to Mr. Sawyers that he would go to such great lengths to try to prevent the agreement between our board and the board of county supervisors.
I am also very disheartened that three members of our school board, after losing one vote, decided to file a complaint with the Department of Justice against our school board and the board of county supervisors.
This letter was improperly sent on school board letterhead, with all of our names listed on the paper. Our staff members around the county know, after going through hundreds, if not thousands of hours of training, what the consequences of a Department of Justice investigation can mean to a school division.
I am appalled that three of the members of this board felt that they had to go to a federal agency to ask them to weigh in on a vote they lost on the school board. Now, our school division will face legal fees because of their actions. Those fees have to come from the budget, a budget that should be geared toward our students, the very students they claim to want to support. What will be sacrificed to pay for the legal bills for this action?
Many allegations were made in this letter sent to the Department of Justice. If you would like to know the real demographics of our Prince William County Schools, I encourage you to look up the information for yourself on the school report cards that you can find on PWCS.edu. I will provide a link on my Friends of Alyson Satterwhite Facebook page.
This Board has had two training sessions this school year. Key in those sessions was the phrase “kids first.”
This board has to get back to work. It is way past time to stop with the personal politics, and focus on our students and the needs of our school division. What is occurring with this board is bad not only for our students, our schools, our staff, our division, but also our county.
We rely on our county for our funding. If our school board continues with this total dysfunction we will harm economic development in this county and future funding for our schools. How? Businesses want to move to a place where their employees will be happy and that includes communities with good schools. We are cutting off our own future funding if we continue this way.
I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: either take this job seriously and work hard for our students, or leave. There are plenty of people in this county who truly care about our students and want the best for them.
I know that this board can work together. We have shown it. I really do hope for the best, because it is in the best interest of our school division.
Bristow Beat will follow up to provide more information on whether the vote at the special meeting will be recognized by the school division. At this time, since the video is unavailable, it appears it will not be.
© 2017, Stacy Shaw. All rights reserved.