Opinion Your Views — 14 February 2013
Times’ ACPS coverage is much ado about nothing

To the editor:

For the past several weeks, the Alexandria Times has published articles and editorials raising the specter of intrigue and malfeasance by the former Alexandria City School Board. The alleged crime this time: establishing an educational foundation to benefit the children in our public schools. The foundation would have a mandate to support the implementation of the goals of the division’s strategic plan in areas that have not been funded or been underfunded.

What does the documented, written record tell us about the decision by the previous school board to establish an educational foundation? All of these facts are found on the Alexandria City Public Schools website and readily available to anyone with a few moments of effort.

First, the minutes of the school board’s budget and audit committee — dated November 2, 2009 — memorialize the idea of establishing an educational foundation that was discussed as early as October 29, 2009, and at subsequent meetings by the committee, of which I served as chair.

Second, the school board also discussed the issue on at least two occasions: first at the school board’s 2010 annual retreat and thereafter at the board’s 2011 retreat. On September 18, 2011, the board, without dissent, approved and authorized the establishment of an educational foundation.

The Times suggests — without any facts to support this ill-founded notion — that the foundation was approved (if at all) in secret to hide it from public scrutiny. Yet the retreat was properly noticed and placed on the board’s calendar, open to the public and attended by many members of our community.

And if no one from the Times attended any portion of the two-day retreat to observe the proceedings and learn that a foundation would be established, a press release reporting the accomplishments of the retreat noted the topic of establishing an educational foundation. The press release was issued September 20, 2011, and sent to all local media, including the Times.

In sum, the objective, written, documented facts belie any notion that either the board did not approve a foundation or — for some unknown reason that the Times cannot identify — its approval was intentionally given in secret. The facts establish that the board’s customary procedures were utilized. The issue was vetted in committee, discussed by the full board and approved — all in duly called public meetings.

For its coverage of our public schools for the last several weeks, the Times has earned a grade of “F.” Many of us hope its editor will find a truer compass and address some of the real issues facing our schools and our community: increased capacity and the need for new schools and how to fund them; the continuing, vexing problem of the achievement gap; the threat of a state takeover of our schools; and how city council plans to address the $15 million shortfall between anticipated expenditures and revenues it faces in the coming budget year.

As for the school board, I wish them well. After all, much of the success we seek for all students depends on them.

-Arthur E. Peabody Jr.
Former school board member

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(3) Readers Comments

  1. Just who is Mr. Peabody kidding here. A few “moments of effort” produces absolutely zero “documented, written record” of the establishment of this questionable foundation. There is no public record of the previous School Board even holding a meeting, committee or otherwise, on October 29, 2009. A check of public records surrounding that date indicate that at the October 22, 2009 School Board meeting and November 1, 2009 School Board Retreat there was never any mention of the foundation in question. The agenda for the August 28-29, 2010 School Board Retreat has two words simply stating “Education Foundation” and attributing the presentation to David Temple. Mr. Temple’s job title within ACPS includes foundation support and there are a number of other foundations, including the Scholarship Foundation, which Mr.Temple could report on. Mr. Temple is never mentioned as having any connection with the foundation in question. Not a single word of the 146 pages of documents attached to the 2010 School Board Retreat make reference to the foundation in question. A review of the September 17&18 2011 School Board Retreat agenda and attachments fail to provide a single reference to the foundation in question. The September 20, 2011 press release which Mr. Peabody cites is 572 words in length. Four words within the entire press release make reference to “establishing an education foundation.” In all 572 words there is not a specific reference to the Alexandria City Public Schools Education Foundation, nor any mention of the intended purpose or structure of any foundation to be established. In all of the public documents cited by Mr. Peabody, spanning over a two year period and including hundreds of pages of attachments, there is absolutely no mention of the Alexandria City Public Schools Education Foundation. Even with this lack of public documentation, Mr. Peabody assures the public that all proceedures were followed here and all information is “readily available.” A review of the facts shows that legally required minutes of publicly scheduled School Board meetings from the previous board are unavailable for public review. Members of the public interested in reading the minutes from previous board meetings must go back over a year and a half (January 13, 2011) to view minutes from previous school board meetings. Does Mr. Peabody truly believe that this unacceptable lack of public record keeping instills any faith in the transparency of the previous school board? Mr. Peabody and others on the board can not provide the public with legally required meeting minutes yet they want us to just trust that this decision was made in the open? Two members of the previous board, Mr. Williams and Mrs. Campbell, who now sit on the current school board will have to shed light on Mr. Peabody’s assertion that there was ever any unanimous board approval for the foundation in question. Public documentation referred to by Mr. Peabody leaves the public with a belief that this foundation was never vetted in committee, discussed by the full board, or approved in duly called public meetings.

  2. Readers and the Times may be interested to know that during the 2009-2010 school year the Budget and Audit Committee of which Mr. Peabody was chair met on 5 occasions. During the 2010-2011 school year that committee met on just 2 occasions. During the 2011-2012 school year the same committee met on 9 occasions (almost all of the meetings coming after the announcement of budget and audit problems within the ACPS Capital Improvement Program budget). During the 2012-2013 school year, before the swearing in of the new school board, the Budget and Audit Committee met 4 times. Out of the 20 meetings which took place between 2009 and 2012, only the two committee meetings cited by Mr. Peabody, the October 28, 2009 and November 2, 2009 meetings, include minutes open to review by the public. Two meetings out of twenty. The minutes these committee meetings mention the establishment of a foundation. There is however no reference to a name of the foundation, no mention of an intended purpose of the foundation, no details of the structure of the foundation, no reference to the board of directors, no mention of a memorandum of understanding with the school system, nothing. References in the minutes to provide discussions and detaisl at future meetings can not be verified because there are no minutes for those meetings available to the public. The minutes from the November 2, 2009 committee meeting states that the committee expects the foundation to be established in the spring of 2010 “if approved by the board.” Board approval would indicate a public vote. Where is public documentation of that public vote? It is a rather odd coincidence that the only meetings of this committee containing any minutes available to the public are the two meetings which Mr. Peabody uses to bolster his claims. None of the committee meetings were videotaped so the public is left with 2 questionable sets of meeting minutes out of the 20 meetings of this committee. Odd.

  3. As the public continues to look closer at this deal, it becomes apparent that there is little here which passes the sniff test. First, Mr. Peabody contends that the mandate of this foundation is to “support the implementation of the goals of the division’s strategic plan in areas that have not been funded or been underfunded.” If these goals are central to the division strategic plan then why were they not properly funded by Mr. Peabody and the School Board? Why did Mr. Peabody and the School Board allow the continued growth of central office positions and spending when they were made aware that there were vital initiatives which were underfunded? This just doesn’t make sense. Second, the minutes referred to by Mr. Peabody are vague at best and even their existence appear out of the norm with the practices of the previous Board. Between 2009 and 2012 the Budget and Audit Committee, of which Mr. Peabody was chair, held only a total of 20 public and closed door meetings. Minutes are available for only two of those twenty meetings. The two meetings which have minutes available for public review just happen to be the meetings cited by Mr. Peabody to support his claims that this foundation was fully vetted. This is an odd coincidence and begs the question where are the minutes for the other 18 meetings held by this committee? Why is the public only presented with meeting minutes which are being used to support a questionable foundation? What details were or were not discussed during the other 18 committee meetings? Unlike full school board meetings, the committee meetings were not videotaped. The public can not compare any video to the minutes which have been presented to them for the two meetings. In the presented November 2, 2009 minutes the committee apparently stated that it believed that the foundation it was discussing would be established in the spring of 2010 if it was “approved by the Board.” Paperwork to incorporate the Alexandria City Public Schools Educational Foundation was filed in September of 2011. If the ACPSEF was the same foundation referenced in the presented committee minutes, then why there a significant delay between when the committee believed the foundation would be incorporated and when it actually was incorporated? The presented committee minutes also stated that any establishment of a foundation would not take place unless “approved by the Board.” Where is the public documentation of this Board approval? Where are the minutes of the Board communicating this idea with the public, minutes of Board discussion of this topic, and minutes of the approving vote on this foundation? The November 2, 2009 presented minutes also note that there would be further discussion with more details at future meetings. Why have those minutes not been presented to the public as required by law? There are many unanswered questions and an alarming lack of public information involving the creation of this questionable foundation. The citizens of Alexandria and local media will continue to pursue this until all details involving this matter are brought to light.

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