Fluvanna Superintendent Smith Discusses New High School

I was pleased to find that the Fluvanna County School Superintendent, Dr. Tom Smith decided last fall to begin a new way to communicate with the Fluvanna Community by starting his own blog. His introductory message gave a status update to the progression of plans on the new High School, among other things.

“The School Board has approved design specifications submitted by the architects and hope to consider and approve the final construction drawings at the December, 2008 School Board meeting. Once approved, we will then advertise for construction bids. It is still hoped that we can break ground sometime around the first part of 2009.”

I took it upon myself to respond in light of the new economic climate we are all facing and the discovery that school enrollment is down this year (since rapid enrollment growth is the basis for the urgent need of this new high school). I had hoped I would see a response, but never fully expected one.

To my surprise, a month and a half later I found he indeed responded to my concerns only a week after I expressed them. He indicated the numbers I had stated were misleading and the growth trend was about 60 students/year. Specifically he stated, “we have continued to increase our enrollments by approximately 60 students each year” and again at the School Board meeting on January 14th 2009 he stated, “We are down. But again we have seen about an increase of about 60 students. This the October enrollment…“[SOURCE]

His figures confused me, so I asked for clarification. I also reminded him of the economic climate we are in on the federal level and how this will affect us here in Fluvanna. In his response he had also stated that he feared there was “a danger in waiting to begin the building program” and that we “can expect the costs to be significantly higher”.  I explained that I did not see that as sufficient cause to press forward given the magnitude of the situation.

I was pleased to see that my comment was posted on his blog after awaiting moderation for several days, but he had not responded again. So, I emailed him (and copied the School Board & Board of Supervisors) asking that he reply in order to settle my concerns. He replied early this week that he would respond to me within the week. And he did.

He did not address the economic climate, but rather gave me enrollment figures from 2006/07 and 2007/08 as proof of his 60 student growth trend and referred me to a construction link on the Fluco.org website for further reasoning on continuing with the Domino plan given in September 2005.

Okay, I was getting a little frustrated because it seemed like he was ignoring the current situation…as if he was holding his ears and going “la, la, la” to drown out the present day facts. While I appreciated him taking the time to respond to me, I don’t think he was hearing my most pressing concerns, that enrollment is down and our economy is in the tank. Here was my response to him:

Dr. Smith,

Thank you for continuing our dialogue on the new high school.

First, I did very thorough research on the Domino Plan and Flex Plan A back in 2007 as you can see outlined here: http://carriewigal.com/2007/10/22/flex-plan-a-vs-domino-plan-fluvanna-county-schools-proposals/
I would sincerely appreciate your comments on that analysis, especially if I am off in my conclusions.

But I found a few things curious:
* The School Board had already set in their mind a high school would be built at Pleasant Grove (according to minutes from various Board of Supervisors meetings in late 2003/early 2004).
* The School Board secured monies for an expansion on the current high school in August/September 2004 with the idea of changing it into a middle school, obviously knowing there was a “plan” for a high school to be built on Pleasant Grove.
* $50,000 was acquired, A Joint Committee was formed and a presentation was given to the Board of Supervisors in May 2005, recommending the Flex Plan A.
* The School Board supposedly considered the Joint Committee’s proposal, but chose to proceed with the Domino Plan in September 2005 anyway.

Was the Joint Committee’s proposal truly considered? It seems to me someone wanted the new high school to happen all along. Why was the Flex Plan A shot down?

Second, your current enrollment numbers…you are using March figures from 2006/2007 and 2007/2008 which includes preschool, correct? Those are the past two years’ numbers. What about this year: 2008/2009? When I look at the figures five months prior to your 2007/2008 number I see enrollment is at 3758 (including preschool)…which by your explanation makes sense that it levels off to 3730. But then this year’s enrollment is at 3705 (including preschool) just 3 months ago. Obviously we cannot tell what March is going to be since it’s two months away from now, but even if there is no leveling off as you suggest typically happens, we are still 25 students below last year’s March figure. Enrollment is down.

Thirdly and most notably, you are not addressing our economic climate. Do you not recognize what is happening in Washington DC…what has been happening over the past four months? The Federal Government is spending billions of dollars that we don’t have in a desperate attempt to “save our economy”. There are going to be repercussions felt from this…here in Fluvanna County. There is a bill on the Senate floor right now, proposing close to $900 Billion dollars being spent to stimulate the economy. Who is going to pay for that?

Thousands of jobs are being cut on a daily basis. Prices for food and gas are going up. People are rightfully concerned about their personal income and how they are going to pay their existing bills. The dollar is being devalued with all the currency being printed by the Federal Reserve to fund these bailouts at a much faster rate than ever before in our history. Our economy is extremely fragile right now…any educated person who is paying attention can see this. There is a gigantic elephant in the room that you insist on ignoring.

Please, I implore you to put any past ambitions aside for a moment and look at this from the average Fluvanna citizen’s perspective considering current conditions. You are asking us to push ahead with a new high school because you “do not think it(slowing growth) will be a long term trend”, yet you have nothing concrete to base that on.

We do not have any large businesses in this county to offset the cost of this high school (and the renovations on the existing buildings to follow)…that means ordinary citizens are going to have to pay for this. People in our county are losing their jobs. Prices for food and gas are going up. Residential construction is at a standstill and more and more “For Sale” signs are donning our curb sides. While there may be growth again in the county someday, it is not happening now. Our federal taxes are going to go up, thanks to Uncle Sam…and now our local taxes are going to go through the roof starting in 2 years because of this HUGE Capital project (the new high school) that is clearly becoming less needful.

If we’re stuck with having to pay back this debt and there’s no way of getting out of it, then can we for a moment reconsider how we’re spending these dollars. The elementary and middle schools are the ones overcrowded right now…why not work to solve those issues first?

I appreciate your willingness to maintain a dialogue on this daunting issue, and I again look forward to your response.

My comment is awaiting moderation.

2 thoughts on “Fluvanna Superintendent Smith Discusses New High School

  1. Doug Johnson

    If I were on the school board, I would vote to stop this madness even if construction was already started.
    They have now voted to start with the lowest bidder. They are thinking about the millions saved by building now rather than the hundred million being wasted by building what is not needed now and will not be needed during the next 20 years.
    Furthermore, this dumb plan has the kintergarten kids going to a school with 1200 students instead of a local small community school like the two we will be closing like the two we already closed.

    Reply
  2. Carrie Wigal Post author

    Yeah, closing small schools in a predominantly rural county…forcing kindergarteners who need to take a bus, to ride it for up to an hour (one way) to get to their final destination.

    That aside, the Superintendent responded to my response outlined above. Here is what he had to say: http://flucosupt.edublogs.org/2009/02/09/response-to-carrie-3/

    There’s a thoughtful comment on that post…perhaps I’ll add to it…I’m sure Dr. Smith is sick of hearing from me by now, but if he’s willing to put the dialogue in black and white, I’m willing to keep the discussion going for my neighbors’ benefit.

    Reply

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