School Board Pushes for Transparency in CIP

| January 10, 2016 | 0 Comments | Education
Cole District school board member Willie Deutsch.

Cole District school board member Willie Deutsch.

The Prince William County School Board will hold a work session to discuss the Capital Improvement Plan [CIP] Wednesday at 6 p.m.; for the first time, citizens have a chance to preview the presentation.

When Prince William County Schools held its first school board meeting this year with four new board members, the meeting lasted until 11:30 p.m.

The board had scheduled a work session to follow the regular meeting, which would discuss the building of new schools, additions to old schools and the use of hundreds of millions of dollars in bonds.

As the meeting would not be televised, anyone wanting direct information about the CIP would have had to stay at the Kelley Center into early in the morning.

In the past, coffee was poured, corn was popped and school board members settled in for a long meeting. This year, the new board had a better idea.

“I made the motion at the end to go ahead and delay,” Willie Deutsch, the new Coles District School Board Representative said.

The motion had technicality issues and then Potomac School Board Representative Justin Wilks made a motion to start and delay the meeting by unanimous consent.

The board members were in agreement, and via a vote, unanimously agreed to delay the meeting. Deutsch believes the new meeting time will provide further transparency for both the school board and the community.

“We have reductions in land availability, but we still have overcrowding that we want to deal with,” said Deutsch. “If you have the conversation starting at midnight, you’re not going to get very informed questions or a very thorough analysis.”

For Deutsch, the effort to increase transparency in the CIP work session did not start at the 11th hour. It began a week before the meeting.

“I have been pushing over the previous week to make sure we released early. Originally, [administrators at Prince William County Schools] weren’t going to give us the presentation until they showed it to us,” Deutsch said. “I sent an email to staff on Saturday; I got a very thorough letter as to why they couldn’t give it to me.”

However, Deutsch pushed back, and PWCS did produce the presentation. It was posted the day of the board meeting, and Deutsch believes it should have been posted sooner.

“Still, it was very last minute. Everything at a minimum should be up the Friday before, so we can have the weekend to go over it,” he said.

With the delay of the meeting, Deutsch now feels confident that both school board members and citizens have the time they need to familiarize themselves with the CIP, saying, “the more transparency and the more community engagement we’re going to have, the stronger we’re going to be overall.”

He would also like to move away from late evening work session meetings altogether, saying it is too “secretive,” especially when even school board members are not provided the information in advance.

“Then, honestly, we shouldn’t even be there…If you want things to pass through with minimum scrutiny and very little review, that is the process you put in place.”

The changes citizens are seeing, said Deutsch, are part the school board’s effort to monitor the internal operation of the school division.

“I think the essential questions is should [the school division] be staff-run or board-run and the pendulum has swung back that it should be run by the board so that the staff should be responsive.”

According to Deutsch, no one on the current board is opposed to increasing transparency even if different members offer different approaches.

He hopes in the future work sessions can be recorded and televised and he hopes many new changes will be “codified,” becoming policy.

The work session meeting will take place in the Kelley Leadership Building at 14715 Bristow Road in Manassa.

This post has been updated at 9:38 a.m. to show that while Willie Deutsch made the first motion to delay the work session, Justin Wilks made a follow-up motion that was the motion upon which the board voted. 

© 2016, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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