Report makes recommendations

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Two recent reports on the Alexandria City Public School system paint different pictures. One was a state efficiency review and the other was a best and worst list of schools throughout the country by Forbes Magazine.

On June 26, the Virginia Department of Planning and Budget and MGT/America presented a report on the States Efficiency Review of ACPS. These reviews were initiated by Governor Mark Warner in 2002 as a way of identifying financial savings through more efficient practices for school systems around Virginia.

MGT looked at administrative functions such as financial management, personnel, food services, technology management, facilities use and management and transportation. The goal was to identify areas where the system is doing things right and areas where savings can be found through more efficient practices.

MGT found areas in each category that deserved commendations and areas where improvements could be made. Full implementation of all of the recommendations over a five-year period will result in a net savings of $2.774 million. To realize this savings, the system must first spend $8.4 million to save $5.6 million.

According to the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding between DPB and ACPS, the school system is responsible for implementing at least 50 percent of the recommendations within the next two years or ACPS must reimburse the state for an additional 50 percent of the $200,000 cost of the efficiency review. ACPS has already paid $50,000 toward that cost.

Superintendent Rebecca L. Perry was generally pleased with the results of the efficiency review. I will be working on an implementation plan in response to this, she said.

Then School Board Chairman Arthur Peabody had some corrections to the findings. The report recommends that we develop a Board self assessment tool and an evaluation tool for reviewing the superintendents performance, Peabody said. We already have those in place and I would like to give you copies of them.

Peabody presented the documents to John Ringer, the DPB representative and to Simmie Raiford from MGT. This week, Ringer notified the School Board that no corrections could be made. The report reflects the information gathered from interviews with Board members and documentation collected during the time of the onsite review. Information provided during the Board meeting does not alter the report findings.

However, the school division can credit the recommendations in question as complete in terms of the implementation requirements, Ringer said in an email to the Board and Perry.

Claire Eberwein, the newly elected School Board Chair, responded saying, If it is the policy of the state to give us credit for implementing policies that are already in place, we will have to live with that and if we find other errors in the report, we can hope that we get credit for those as well, she said.

There were opportunities for correcting various drafts of the report. ACPS received the first draft on April 2. After revisions were made, a second draft was sent to ACPS on May 22. On June 19, according to Ringer, the final draft was sent and that document became final when it was presented to the Board and the public on June 26. Between April 2 and June 19, ACPS staff reviewed the document and made changes. Board members did not see the document until it was final.

It is hard to understand a process that did not allow for Board review when that document critiqued Board policies, said Board Member Scott Newsham.

Educational Bang for the Buck

The July 5 issue of Forbes Magazine listed the best and worst schools in the country based on bang for the buck. Marin County, Calif., was ranked as the best, with a per pupil expenditure of just over $9,000. Alexandrias public school system was ranked the worst, with a per pupil cost of just over $13,000. The article was based on 2004 data, obtained from a variety of sources including the Schoolsmater.com web site, tax information for all jurisdictions and local property values.

Other Washington Metropolitan area school systems faired much better, according to the article. Montgomery County, Md., schools ranked #5; Loudoun County schools #11; Fairfax County schools #27 and Arlington County schools #64. D.C. public schools were #95 and Alexandria, #97, the last school system ranked.

Jon Liss, executive director of Tenants and Workers United, a nonprofit that advocates for educational opportunity and excellence for every ACPS student said, This article confirms what we have long feared, that there are two school systems within the ACPS system one for mostly white kids where students take honors classes and college entrance exams, graduate and go on to college and another for black and Latino kids who do not do nearly as well.

I am a bit concerned about the methodology and that in some instances, we are comparing apples to oranges because there is inconsistency in how different school systems count different things. For example, how we get to a graduation rate. ACPS has a great deal of mobility so do we count kids who enter ninth grade in Alexandria and are still here in twelfth grade and how do other systems determine their graduation rates? The writer seems to indicate that it varies.

While Alexandria certainly has more kids on free and reduced lunch and more minority kids than Marin County, we have to stop blaming kids for not getting a good education and start believing that all kids can achieve without regard to race or economic status, Liss said.

No one from the Alexandria City Public Schools system was available for comment by press time.

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