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New Mecklenburg County school attorney outlines role for trustees
SoVaNow.com / May 21, 2014Craig Wood of Maguire Woods was introduced as the new legal counsel for the Mecklenburg County School Board Monday night at the trustees’ May meeting. Previously, Board members voted to terminate the contract with former attorney Brad King at a special meeting held on May 9. Trustees Glenn Edwards and Dale Sturdifen opposed the motion to replace King with Wood.
Emphasizing that he works for the board as a whole, not individual members or the superintendent, Wood used a Powerpoint presentation designed to answer the question, “What is the role of the school board, superintendent, and the school board attorney, and how do they interrelate?” and outline, what Wood called the “best practices between school boards and superintendents.”
He said that no individual member of the school board can or should act alone, and the powers and duties of the school board are confined to setting local policy and regulations aimed at maintaining a fully accredited schools, implementing the SOLs (Standards of Learning), setting the calendar, providing insurance, employing licensed instructional personnel, disciplining students, making the final decision of matters of employment and supervision of personnel, and appointing and supervising the superintendent.
He encouraged board members to “secure by visitation or otherwise” information about the conduct of the schools in the division, but to refrain from micromanaging the day-to-day operations.
Wood added that trustees were also charged with managing and controlling school funds.
The superintendent is the one charged with overseeing daily operations of the school division, including implementing the policies established by the board, supervising personnel and development and oversight of the school budget. That means, according to Wood, Board members should bring criticisms, concerns and problems advanced by employees or the general public to the superintendent for handling. While the superintendent is charged with resolving these issues, he is also charged with reporting his results back to the board.
The “best way to avoid conflict” Wood said is “good and regular communications.”
One issue Wood did not address was the appropriate use of a closed meeting or what matters should or should not be discussed in a closed session; the three most common are personnel matters, real estate exceptions, and legal matters. He also did not explain the rules for convening a closed session - there must be a motion stating specifically the subject of the meeting. A generalized boilerplate reference to the FOIA is clearly inadequate according to Virginia Law.
When Edwards asked Wood whether the video transcript of discussions held during public meetings should be included in the minutes. Wood said “no,” adding that the minutes need only reflect the date, time, place of the meetings and a record of votes taken.
The Virginia Code, section 2.2-3707(I) calls for the minutes of public bodies like the school board to “include a summary of the discussion on matters proposed, deliberated or decided.”
Wood said the board and superintendent must have a “constructive partnership” based on mutual respect. He called for both the board and superintendent to put the needs of the division ahead of all else, promote an “ethos of transparency” and “strong ethical values.”
In other business, the school board adopted the policies of the Virginia School Board Association of their current policies. While they will be available online, only those with passwords, which according to their vote will be given to school trustees and the personnel director Laura Pittard. The public will not, as currently voted, have direct access to the policies.
Trustees approved a contract with Family Preservation Services a counseling clinical support team that work with children with behavior problems that are manifested in the school.
The new student liaisons to the school board for 2014/15 were introduced. They are Macey Mills representing Bluestone High School and Chris Wilson representing Park View High School.
Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative, VETS and BGF Industries were named to the 2014 Virginia School Board Association Business Honor Roll for their support of the local schools, and Donna Garner, the school’s finance director was authorized to represent Mecklenburg County Public Schools at the June 11 bid opening.
Mecklenburg County Public Schools along with Charlotte County, Cumberland County, Buckingham County, Brunswick County, Appomattox County, Prince Edward County and Amelia County jointly advertised for the public bid of heating fuel oil, propane, diesel and unleaded gasoline in an attempt to save money on these necessary costs. Last school year, Mecklenburg County saw a savings of $.08/gallon on diesel and $.05/gallon on unleaded gasoline, against state contracts, by participating in this buying consortium, according to Garner.
Acknowledging that the schools’ maintenance workers do not have the time to spend on upkeep of the school grounds (a service once performed by the schools’ janitors before their jobs were outsourced), Trustees voted to contract with two outside vendors for grounds maintenance. School grounds on the east side of the county will be maintained by P & P Contractors, and those on the west side and the central office will be maintained by Extreme Lawn Care.
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