A tale of a meeting

Published 11:23 am Saturday, September 1, 2012

by Don Blythe

If you asked the Franklin School Board chairman, the Franklin School superintendent, or the mayor how the joint School Board-City Council meeting went Tuesday, they would probably say it was fine.

For those who were not there, let me give you the rest of the story.

Walking out of the meeting, I heard citizens and even a school board member saying this was a waste of time and not what they expected. I agree.

This meeting was called by the City Council to ask questions to the School Board on what was going on in the schools. We were asked to submit our questions and questions citizens gave us ahead of time so the superintendent and school board members would have time to prepare answers.

Well, this is where things started to fall apart.

First, I find out the meeting would be in an upstairs meeting room instead of council chambers and would not be televised on the cable channel. I addressed this with the proper channels that the people needed to see this, but was overruled.

I now know why. If you could have seen this meeting, you would understand the cover-up going on in our schools.

Second, when we got our agendas, our questions were put last and the School Board questions were first. I objected to this to Mayor Raystine Johnson-Ashburn, noting there would not be time for our questions, and our questions needed to be asked first so we could better answer their questions; she said she would not change this.

Well, I was right. After giving the impression that this was the first meeting ever between the School Board and City Council and asking everyone to make statements that used a fair amount of time we finally got started.

Much to my dismay, the mayor started with the school board questions, did not follow the agenda and skipped around their questions.

When it was time to come to our questions, the mayor announced that time was up. Her only response was, “I’m sorry,” and then the School Board members said they were surprised because their agenda did not include a copy of our questions.

I’m still trying to figure out how this could have happened. It was as if they did not want the school board members to see the questions, worried that they may give answers not approved by central office.

I asked about the no grade below a 60 policy from last year before it got reversed where the superintendent put it in place without permission of the school board. My answer from the School Board was this was in the past and we are not going to answer questions about the past.

The public has never been given an explanation on this.

Also, when asking the superintendent why we are losing kids to other schools because we are not meeting their needs, she did not see this as a problem.

Another council member said he was at a meeting where it implied over 100 of our kids go to Southampton. I asked if they had figures on how many kids total go to surrounding public and private schools, and they conveniently did not have this information.

This is a problem.

Franklin’s mission statement is to provide a quality education to every student especially where their parents’ real estate taxes go to pay for our schools, and this is lacking here whether the superintendent wants to admit this or not. We also learn we are once again on report to the state for not meeting our standards.

They made it seem like this was not that big a deal. It is.

Other quick questions on my list that never got asked included:

* How many sick-leave days was Superintendent Dr. Michelle Belle out this summer and how did we pay her for this?

* What criteria does the School Board use when doing the superintendent evaluation?

* The superintendent, like other department heads, is required to live in Franklin, but ours goes home about every weekend and took the whole summer off and stayed at home when she was on sick leave.

* Did the superintendent sit in for the interviews for the principals? Why did we wait until August just before school starts to appoint the principals?

As you can see, it was as if these questions were left out not to embarrass anyone and give the impression all is well. Our schools and kids are our future.

DON BLYTHE is a the Ward 6 councilman for the City of Franklin and can be reached at ward-6@franklinva.com.