Your View: Who is watching the school board?

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Your View: Who is watching the school board?
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By William Goff, Alexandria (File photo)

To the editor:
The Alexandria City School Board, except for the newly elected members, are incapable of managing their budget of almost $300 million. The board controls 44 percent of the total city budget, a disturbing and frightening thought.

It has a pervasive lack of clarity and no accountability, resulting in gross overspending — literally a financial circus which has been the norm at the school board for the past 12 years. We need an oversight committee with foresight and fiscal restraint to monitor school board spending and we need it now.

The current $1.5 billion project to rebuild our school facilities, which were never maintained and left to rot, has al- ready become a financial nightmare. The Patrick Henry project will now have bus and truck traffic on a neighborhood street, resulting in a double whammy of noise and loss of property value for the neighborhood.

The reason for this change, as stated by the school board, is that it stands to save $1.2 million with Alternative A1. Figures do not lie; the school board has never saved a cent on any project. In 2013, they moved money from many sources, including school bus maintenance, in order to finance a tennis court project. There was never any dialogue or cost analysis on the choices.

In the past, Alexandria City Public Schools projects have never come in on budget, including T.C. Williams, Jefferson-Houston School, the Francis C. Hammond field and the infamous tennis courts — budgeted at $425,000, plus $200,000 for lights, but when the final bill came in it was at $1.4 million. There is absolutely no precedent for the Patrick Henry project to come in under budget, and there is currently no maximum price.

Our academics remain shoddy at best. The horrific action of the Cora Kelly School principal to inform 36 families of struggling students of their right to opt out of state Standards of Learning tests so the scores could be artificially elevated is absolutely inexcusable and he deserves more than a slap on the wrist.

We need a complete audit of other schools to determine if this action was pervasive. We had three schools in the top 50 percent of test scores and four schools in the lower 10 percent with warnings pending. Whatever we are doing, it’s not working. But that is never a reason to cheat.

We are losing the academic race because the school board is more interested in athletic infrastructure than academics. A $450,000 fee for the design of Parker-Gray Stadium takes precedent over hiring more excellent teachers. Placing lights at the stadium is illegal, so why would we wish to spend money on it? In addition, board members have discussed a possible tax hike to help balance a deficit in the ACPS budget. Didn’t we just have a 3-cent tax increase? Based upon past history, would you give the school board more money?

To the school board, new members excluded, my message is thus: Turn out the lights, the party’s over. Financial guidance and austerity is needed and overdue.

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