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Candland, Sawyers Clash over Transparency surrounding Cost of School Renaming

| April 12, 2016 | 0 Comments | News
Gainesville Supervisor Peter Candland and Prince William School Board Chairman Ryan Sawyers.

Gainesville Supervisor Peter Candland and Prince William School Board Chairman Ryan Sawyers.

Following the Prince William School Board’s presentation before the Board of County Supervisors, last week, Gainesville Supervisor Pete Candland (R) and School Board Chairman Ryan Sawyers exchanged heated letters over Sawyers’ decision not to share the preliminary numbers, regarding the Godwin Middle School renaming.

Supervisor Candland sent a letter to Chairman Sawyers, dated April 7, asking him why he did not provide the estimated cost to rename Godwin Middle School to the board when those numbers provided by David Cline, Prince William County Schools Associate Superintendent for Fiance and Support Services, were published by Potomac Local under the headline “Godwin renaming to top half million dollars.”

Candland said Sawyers and Cline had an obligation to share those numbers with the Board of County Supervisors, especially since Coles District Supervisor Marty Nohe (R) specifically requested them.

“First, you stated that the information would be available at ‘an official presentation’ during the April 20 School Board Meeting,” wrote Candland, “and you looked directly at Mr. Cline for affirmation and received a nod from him confirming the accuracy of your statement.”

Candland noted both he and Supervisor Jeanine Lawson (R) of the Brentsville District brought up the name change a second and third time within the meeting. Lawson even remarked she was disappointed the budgetary impacts were not considered “prior to the policy decisions being made.”

Candland described it as a failure to be transparent.

I am profoundly disappointed in the failure by both you and Mr. Cline to make a full and transparent disclosure….In my judgement, it is not sufficient to parse the inquiries made by a member of the Board of County Supervisors by dismissing the inquiry with an explanation that “an official presentation” on the topic would be made at some future meeting.

Regarding the cost of the name change, Candland also referenced statement published in Bristow Beat, April 6, in which Sawyers said his estimate for the remaining was more in line with $100,000-$125,000. Sawyers said that number is more accurate since his board would not likely approve even what the school division had described as necessary changes, like replacing gymnasium floors. 

However, Candland said he would like to know what information Sawyers had when making his estimation, and again called into questions his desire to be transparent, saying it would have lasting consequences. 

The lack of transparency from you and the School staff on these important issues raises legitimate concerns about other information the Board of County Supervisors receives from the either the School Board or School Administration (and whether that information) can be relied upon as the basis for our actions on the School budget.

Read the complete version of Candland’s First Letter to Sawyers

Chairman Sawyer’s Response:

Prince William School Board Chairman Ryan Sawyers responded to Candland with a response letter dated April 11. In that response, he accused Candland of focusing on politically charged issues rather than considering the more important aspects of the school budget. 

He opens his letter, saying “There you go again.” And stated, “Nobody lied to you,” emphatically in a stand alone paragraph.

Sawyers said Candland wasted taxpayer resources watching “time-coded video” and creating an “amateurish profiling of my [Sawyers’] ‘nonverbal’ behavior.”

Then, Sawyers explained he plans to share the actual costs of changes to Hampton (formerly Godwin) Middle School once it has been approved by the School Board. He would rather not share a list of expenditures that may or may not be relevant.

Regarding the costs published in the local media, Sawyers said, “none of these figures represent an official PWCS estimate of the actual costs associated with that project,” since he does not believe most will receive school board approval. 

Sawyers also said he had just received the email on the Godwin cost a few hours earlier so to comment without looking further into the matter would have been unprofessional.

However, cutting to what he believes is the heart of the matter, Sawyers tells Candland he should stop pretending cost is really the issue.

“Of course, whether it turns out to be $50,000 or $500,000 really isn’t the issue for your purposes, is it?”

Sawyers said even at $500,000, the cost of the Godwin renaming would be .0005 of the school budget, “by any financial definition ‘immaterial.’”

“You seem to fixate on these financially insignificant yet politically charged items rather than on those expenditures that have a material financial impact on school operations and, by extension, on the children who attend our schools,” Sawyers said. 

He calls Candland a “pandering politician” pretending to be an internal auditor and suggests Candland instead spend his time better acquainting himself with the real budgetary issues.

You must realize, deep down, that instead of hurling figurative bombs at people and calling them liars, you could much better serve the public by working with me, and others, to improve the conditions the BOCS has put our children, parents and teachers in through years of school underfunding when compared to our neighbors in Loudoun and Fairfax Counties. Scorching the earth and burning bridges to score cheap political points serves no one.

In closing, Sawyers said, “I am willing to put aside your reckless allegations and consider them an unintentional miscue. You will find that I am willing to work with you and any other supervisor who possesses a genuine interest in improving the lives of Prince William County students…What do you say?”

Read the complete version of Sawyer’s Response to Candland.

Supervisor Candland’s Second Response:

In response, Candland sent Sawyers another letter, dated April 12. In it, he pointed out what he saw as hypocrisy in Sawyer’s closing statement. He said Sawyer’s call for cooperation did not match the tone of a letter that barraged him with a litany of insults. 

In response to calling a cost of $500,000 “immaterial,” Candland said, “Mr. Sawyers, you couldn’t be more wrong.”

Your conclusion goes to the heart of the fundamental philosophical disagreement you and I apparently have about the duty and responsibility of the Board of County Supervisors’ stewardship over public funds and the importance of carefully spending every taxpayer dollar.

Candland said he believes he has demonstrated during his time as Gainesville Supervisor that he has “consistently and steadfastly defended the principle that government has an affirmative duty to spend every single taxpayer dollar wisely.”

Candland goes on to criticize the new school board for being as fiscally irresponsible as he believed the last school board to have been.

It had been my personal hope that the majority of the newly-elected School Board would abandon the culture of spending that had delivered extraordinarily expensive school designs, with soaring atriums (that increased heating and air conditioning costs), extravagant motorized orchestra lifts, and using education funds to get into the swimming pool management business.

He reiterates a point he had previously made about the aquatic center.

“We now can teach a few of our children to swim in the new aquatics complex, while all of our children are drowning academically in overcrowded classroom,” he said. 

Candland disputes Sawyers’ claim that he has not paid real attention to the school budget, saying he has made “exhaustive” attempts to scrutinize it over his years in office. He has also met with citizens and heard their concerns about school spending, and lists some real concerns he has.

Candland also said he intends to “strongly advocate for policies that will take real and meaningful action to reduce class sizes.” He noted that he proposed in the past increasing the revenue sharing agreement to provide better funding to schools.

Candland even critiqued Sawyers for the aggressive tone school board has taken of late.

Unfortunately, it seems your letter is an extension of what is prevalent culture on the current School Board that seems to convey the message that if you do not agree with the views of the majority of the School Board, then you are subject to personal attacks, and sadly, in some cases, threats of retaliation simply because people hold a different point of view than yours.

This could be a reference to how Neabsco representative Diane Raulston told Godwin teachers she’d be watching them and told Coles representative Willie Deutsch to stay out of her district, or how Potomac representative Justin Wilk loudly complained that the Potomac Local article on the cost of the name change only served to promote the news website, discounting that it provided people with news that residents, including supervisors were interested in knowing.

Concluding his letter, Candland said he would agree to meet with Sawyers.

I am certainly prepared to meet with you on professional basis, and ask only that you bring to that meeting a detailed plan that will show a real commitment form the School Board that their spending priorities will focus on classroom size reduction, addressing underperforming schools where our low-income students are given an equal opportunity for quality education, and how were are going to attract and retain the best qualified teachers for our classrooms.

Read the complete version of Candland’s Second Letter to Sawyers

© 2016, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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