ACV Democratic News

Keeping In Touch with politics and other issues in Central Virginia .....The Virginia 22nd Senate District and The 6th Congressional District......Vote Democratic for a Better Future....Protect Your Benefits

Democratic Committee Meeting

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Is The Sun Setting on America?


You may wonder how a small group of conservatives manage to gain control of the government.   To control the House the district boundaries are drawn so as to favor one party or the other.   Below is an explaination of Senate Bias.    The chart shows how 50% of the senate is controlled by 16.24% of the population.   Note that Virginia with approx 7.5 Million people and ranked number 12th most populated state has the same number of senators as the smallest state of Wyoming with 506,529 people.   

Wyoming's vote is 15 times more potent than Virginia's.    Compare Wyoming to California and you see a 71 to 1 ratio.

The 24 smallest states have less than 17% of the population and they can run the show.   Talk about the tail wagging the dog.   When you look behind the curtain it looks like a criminal enterprise and not like the greatest nation on the face of the earth.   The big monied interests have taken control of the system and the one person one vote principal has bit the dust.   Even with all of these advantages the GOP still restricts the right to vote in an effort to leave out more poor, new and old voters.   

The supreme court looks the other way.   What will it take to wake the people up?    Will it happen in time to save our system?


The Small State Senate Bias

One of the factors that is often overlooked in discussions of the rise of the conservative movment in the past few decades is how this was supported by the way the US constitution was set up to give undue influence to the smaller states.   As each state gets the same number of senators, those with smaller population are relatively more important on a per capita basis.

This may not have been too important when the plan was devised, most states at that time were not too large in either size or population and the distortions were not that evident.   In the 200+ years since then the country has expanded into unforeseen directions.   The results have produced unexpected results.

The most serious of these is the ability of a group of states with small, and most rural, populations to dominate the senate.   The table shown below illustrates the effect. 

It shows the states arranged by population, with the smallest first.   The most important columns for our purposes are the rightmost two.   Notice that when the cumulative senate seats reaches 50 the cumulative population has only reached 16% (Kentucky).    Notice this effect continues even further.   By the time we have reached 70 seats we are still only at 34% of the population.   The converse of this is that the eight or nine largest states contain about 50% of the population.   They are mostly heavily industrialized and contain large cities and, in many cases, fairly large minority populations.   Their interests are being under represented.

Within the twenty five states at this point only two (Maryland and Rhode Island) can be considered urban.   The rest are primarily rural.   So, in effect, rural states with about 1/5 of the population control the senate.   Also note the color coding in the first column (red for Republican, blue for Democrat and purple for split party affiliation) for the senators.      It is obvious from this that there is not a strong party effect.   However, there is an important effect, nevertheless.   These smaller, rural states represent the more conservative type of voters.   Their concerns are far from those of big city states and the heavily industrialized larger states.

The result is that the political viewpoint has drifted rightward over the past twenty five years.   One could argue that these states always had this power.  This is true, but early in the 20th century, these states were rural farm states.   Many of their citizens were directly involved in agriculture.   They tended to side with, or at least sympathize with, the Progressive movement.   So they also found themselves allied with industrial workers against the "trusts."   The result of this commonality of interests was the passage of much of the progressive social legislation of the time.

Since then the family farm has essentially disappeared.   Thus, those remaining in rural areas are no longer populists.   The farms that remain are primarily big, corporate enterprises, and support the same sorts of policies as do those in other large industries.   The result of this demographic shift is that the interests of the common man are overwhelmed by the power of corporatism in states representing a tiny fraction of the population.

The conclusion to be drawn from this is, that if progressives are to regain political power, they will need to find a way to overcome the institutional bias against their interests.   Even Democrats from many of the smaller states take pro-business positions;  that is where they get their funding for their political campaigns.   There is no way to alter this built-in electoral distortion, so any progressive movement will have to find a way to shift the dynamics of the senatorial elections towards more progressive candidates.   This means finding progressives who are willing to run for office and then finding enough financial support for them to be able to run an effective campaign in spite of the expected opposition from the moneyed interests.

With the popular vote in the country pretty evenly divided, the undue influence of the smaller states means that small changes in state elections can tip the senate to the Republicans.   The Republican party knows this and can put the effort into influencing small-state elections at a much lower cost than a campaign in a larger state.   The seats one wins are just as useful, however.

The progressives have their work cut out for them if they are going to change the political dynamics. Replacing Republicans won't be enough, they need to go after the "Republican-Lite" Democrats as well.

Senate Seats vs Population


                           Population    Population   Cumulative       Cumulative      Cumulative
State Name           2004      Rank         Population     Senators        Pop %


Wyoming                  506529        50           506529                  2          0.17%
Vermont                   621394        49           1127923                 4          0.38%
North Dakota           634366        48           1762289                 6          0.60%
Alaska                      655435        47           2417724                 8          0.82%
South Dakota           770883        46           3188607               10          1.09%

Delaware                  830364        45           4018971               12          1.37%
Montana                   926865        44           4945836               14          1.69%
Rhode Island           1080632        43           6026468               16          2.06%
Hawaii                    1262840        42           7289308               18          2.49%
New Hampshire 1299500        41           8588808               20          2.93%

Maine                     1317253        40           9906061               22          3.38%
Idaho                      1393262        39           11299323             24          3.86%
Nebraska                1747214        38           13046537             26          4.45%
West Virginia 1815354         37            14861891            28          5.07%
New Mexico           1903289        36           16765180             30          5.72%

Nevada                   2334771        35           19099951             32          6.52%
Utah                        2389039        34           21488990             34          7.33%
Kansas                    2735502        33           24224492             36          8.26%
Arkansas                 2752629        32           26977121             38          9.20%
Mississippi               2902966        31           29880087             40        10.19%

Iowa                        2954451       30           32834538              42        11.20%
Connecticut             3503604        29           36338142              44        12.40%
Oklahoma                3523553       28           39861695              46        13.60%
Oregon                    3594586       27           43456281              48        14.83%
Kentucky                 4145922       26           47602203              50        16.24%

==== 25 smallest states======50 Senators ====16.24% of population========


South Carolina           4198068   25             51800271               52         17.67%
Louisiana                   4515770   24             56316041               54         19.21%
Alabama                    4530182   23             60846223               56         20.76%
Colorado                   4601403   22             65447626               58         22.33%
Minnesota                  5100958   21             70548584               60         24.07%
Wisconsin                  5509026   20             76057610               62         25.95%
Maryland                   5558058   19              81615668              64         27.85%
Arizona                      5743834   18             87359502               66         29.81%
Missouri                     5754618   17             93114120               68         31.77%
Tennessee                  5900962   16             99015082               70         33.78%


Washington                6203788       15               105218870      72   35.90%
Indiana                       6237569       14               111456439      74   38.03%
Massachusetts            6416505       13               117872944      76   40.22%
Virginia                       7459827      12               125332771      78   42.76%
North Carolina           8541221       11               133873992      80   45.67%
New Jersey                8698879      10                142572871      82   48.64%
Georgia                      8829383        9                151402254      84   51.66%
Michigan                  10112620        8                161514874      86   55.11%
Ohio                         11459011       7                 172973885      88   59.01%
Pennsylvania             12406292       6                 185380177      90   63.25%
Illinois                       12713634       5                 198093811      92   67.59%
Florida                      17397161       4                 215490972      94   80.08%
New York                19227088       3                 234718060      96   80.08%
Texas                       22490022        2                 257208082      98   87.75%
California                  35893799       1                 293101881     100  100.00%


Total
293,101,881




The Following Essay is by Robert Feinman.    To see all his essays visit       http://robertdfeinman.com/society/index.html


Class Warfare - A Different View

There is a neo-populist movement afoot in the US right now.   No one is sure exactly what to call it.  Analogies with the original Populist party break down over issues of tariffs and xenophobia that were prominent in the original movement.   The later "Progressive" movement, which is credited with creating the first round of government regulatory agencies, doesn't fit well either.   It didn't have the broad-based working class foundation that is meant when one talks about populism.

These days when critics accuse liberals of engaging in "class warfare" they mean the the working classes are looking to rein in the excesses of the super wealthy.    Since this group is tiny, the appeal to defending the rights of Paris Hilton doesn't work well, so they try to include the top 20% as well.

I propose to separate the classes on a different basis than is usually the case.   In my scheme there are only two classes:  those who have to work for a living and those who don't.   Those who work may have different levels of income and wealth, but if they lose their wages they will, eventually, starve.

The blue collar, white collar and professional sectors have more in common than they realize. That the wealthy can disguise this fact is one of the greatest triumphs of social misdirection of the modern age.   In the middle of the 20th Century the local town doctor might live in a better home than his patients, but he was part of the community and adverse economic conditions affected him just as much.   The same was true for the local banker.

Now we have large sectors of society who make money by dealing in intangibles.   These may be financiers, or media people, or others engaged in marketing intellectual property.   A dealer in derivatives does not have the same connection to his neighbors as did the town banker.   He thus, mistakenly, thinks he has different interests.

What goals do the various strata of the working class have in common?

A clean environment
A safe local environment
Adequate health, education, and retirement services
A functioning democracy
A stable international political scene
The expectation that similar conditions will exist for their descendants

What does the non-working class want?

Adequate supplies of material goods of any sort
A stable and growing economic system
Permanent investment opportunities
Freedom to move capital internationally
Freedom to relocate when any locale becomes too risky
A political system designed to maintain their influence


Why do some in the working class fail to understand where their interests lie?   There have been many attempts at formulating an explanation.  All seem to have some partial insights.   In no particular order:  a belief that they will rise to the non-working class and thus they need to support those interests so that they will be in place when they "make it".   A feeling of elitism or superiority.  Distraction over "values" issues which blind them to the underlying real class concerns.   Jingoism or xenophobia which fosters an "us versus them" mindset - another form of elitism.   Insecurity or fear which leads to the aim of keeping those who might challenge their position from below being kept "in their place".   This latter attitude may not be totally irrational.   Many "populist" proposals these days aim at limiting the wealth accumulation of the upper segment of the working class.

The non-working class has every reason to oppose limits on their wealth accumulation since their continuing class membership depends upon the ability to make money from money and not labor.  Anything which constrains this will lead to a permanent limit on future wealth growth.   Unlike the working class there is nothing they can do to increase their income except have the rules altered.  By definition they don't "work" so they can't increase their labor.   (I realize that some of the non-working class "work", but they don't have to work to eat they do it for other reasons.)

Now why doesn't a stock trader earning $1 million a year see that his paying a higher fraction of his income is a "good thing"?   Doesn't he want a clean and safe environment for himself and his family? Who does he think is going to pay for this?   Why the tax resentment?   Why does this segment exist only in those countries with a high level of wealth disparity? 

As I stated above, I think the problem is one of a misunderstanding of where one's interests lie.   In a country with a high degree of wealth disparity (like the US and UK) this imbalance allows too much power to reside in the hands of too few.   This not only affects how elected representatives are selected, but also means that the information outlets are in the hands of the non-working classes.   The misinformation barrage is thus unchallenged. Politicians who represent the working class don't get elected and voices from this class don't get heard in the press or on the air.   With a continual program of class misidentification the working wealthy become blind to their real interests.

A member of the non-working class can leave his home country when things get too bad, but what happens to the financial analyst who thinks he is member of this same group? 

He is stuck in the muck just like his blue collar compatriots.   As the problems of resource shortages spread even the options for relocation will diminish.   Perhaps the 400 wealthy families in the US can relocate, but where will they go in 50 years when climate change affects the entire planet?

If you are making $1 million per year, be glad to pay 50 or 90% in taxes and realize that you are still ahead of 99.99% of the rest of the people on the planet.   You can't eat gold and you can't buy protection during a revolution, just ask the French aristocracy of 1789.   If you are among the most fortunate than you have an obligation to contribute more to society.   When did greed replace community as one of the virtues?

The question is how to get people to understand where their interests lie in the face of a generation-long misinformation campaign.   I don't have an answer, but perhaps the rise of alternate sources of information will provide the needed wedge.   This needs to be defended as well.   There are already steps being taken to limit the reach of dissident internet sites as well as to control access to the network itself.   Don't expect the legal system to support the working classes.   Judges and government workers suffer from the same misunderstanding about their class affiliation as do all the others.


Warner Re-Elected

A Million fewer voters participated this time than in 2008 when Gilmore got the same number of votes as Gillespie and went on to lose by a million votes.   A million voters stayed home and didn't have enough interest in the outcome to give Mark Warner their vote.   Mark still won but by slightly less than 17,000 votes.   When democrats get too apathetic to come out and vote we are in real trouble.   One thing you can say for the GOP, they keep their voters filled with hate and fear and motivated to go to the booth and vote every election.   How can we motivate democrats to give a dam about their own lives and who represents them in Washington?

Ed Gillespie will not seek a recount in his tight race for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Mark R. Warner (D), conceding defeat Friday in a campaign that positioned the Republican well for another run for state wide office in Virginia.

The race was surprisingly tight as Gillespie rode a wave of GOP enthusiasm that flipped control of the Senate and raised questions about the extent of Warner’s appeal in a changing Virginia.   Gillespie seized on voter discontent with business in Washington and effectively portrayed Warner as an insider.

Warner had claimed victory Tuesday night, but Gillespie held off on any concession until the ongoing canvass of votes across the commonwealth showed him to be further behind than on election night.    That's right folks he was slipping further behind as the canvass continued so Gillespie called off the recount.    Gillespie said he had a “nice conversation” with Warner on Friday morning.

“This obviously was a hard-fought race, and I’m proud of the campaign we have run and I loved every minute of it,” he said, winning applause from supporters gathered at a Springfield banquet hall. Pausing for a beat, he added to laughter: “Well, maybe not this one so much.”

Gillespie became emotional toward the end of his announcement, and his wife, Cathy, fought back tears when he thanked her and their three children.

Gillespie will return to lobbying to make money and wait for another political office to become available so he can run again.

In a statement, Warner commended Gillespie on a “hard-fought campaign” and said he would focus in his second term on trying to reduce the deficit and avoid further budget cuts due to sequestration.

“On Tuesday, Virginians sent an unmistakable message both to me and Congress as a whole:  End the gridlock and get to work,” he said. “I will spend every day working to get the Senate back in the business of solving problems and not simply scoring political points.    I will work with anyone, Republican or Democrat, to shake up this  dysfunctional Congress and move us toward common ground.”


An election attorney for Warner’s campaign said Thursday that at last count, Gillespie was trailing by 16,761 votes out of more than 2 million cast.

In accordance with the usual process, a statewide canvass of votes is scheduled to conclude Tuesday but will not be certified until Nov. 24, according to the Department of Elections.

Gillespie is a former head of the Republican National Committee and was a political adviser to former president George W. Bush. He began his campaign trailing by double digits in the polls to Warner, a former governor generally regarded as the most popular politician in Virginia.   But voters in southwest Virginia, who had supported him in 
his previous campaigns, abandoned him Tuesday.

Some have said Gillespie could turn his near miss into a campaign for governor in 2017 or assume another leadership role within the party.   Gillespie left his concession announcement without taking questions, but that did not stop supporters from speculating about his future.



Amherst County Virginia Democratic News


ACVDN


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Am Dems Meet, Mark Warner Phone Bank and Melanie Lewis President AEA

Melanie Lewis, President Amherst Education Association

                    President Lewis             Chairman Kable

The Amherst Education Association desires to effect the direct election of school board members in hopes that that move will provide better support for the local school system.   President Lewis discussed this change and presented signature sheets in a quest to get 2500 signatures before the end of the year.   She fielded questions and presented her case.   

ACVDN urges the petition process be waived by the board of supervisors and that they call for a referendum, thus putting this decision where it belongs, in the hands of the Amherst County voters.


ACV Blog

The Amherst Education Association is associated with the Virginia Education Association.
Through the contributions of more than 50,000 members working collectively, the Virginia Education Association fulfills these important aims:

• VEA advocates for public education, as well as the professional development and fair treatment of educators. 

• VEA helps members develop their skills, and VEA members help each other become better teachers through mentoring and sharing of ideas and techniques. 

• VEA helps members save time by providing easy access to information and resources to help them with their profession. 

• VEA advocates at both the state and school division level for competitive salaries as well as increased school funding, so Virginia can retain and attract good teachers. 

• VEA works to show the public the important social good that public schools, teachers, and education support professionals deliver. 

• VEA defends and protects members from unfair regulations, working conditions and professional liabilities.

VEA is the state affiliate of the National Education Association, bringing national resources to its members and carrying their concerns and needs to the national level.


Here's the background on the local funding needs at issue and laid open for discussion.


Late on the night of June 12, the General Assembly finally adopted a budget.   A series of events, including the sudden resignation of  Senator Puckett, Eric Cantor’s surprise loss in the Republican congressional primary, and a lower-than-expected revenue report, led to a disappointing budget result.

Governor McAuliffe had until June 22 to sign, propose changes or veto the entire budget bill.   On June 22, he did sign the bill, but with some significant line-items vetoed.   The Governor intends, as he said in a June 20 press conference in strong language, to move forward on Medicaid expansion, which saves the state budget about $300 million each year and has the potential to increase the number of jobs in Virginia.

Here are some of the major points in the budget.

 The budget has no salary increase for educators.    Earlier versions in both the Senate and the House had the state share of an increase for part of the two-year budget period.

 The adopted budget has no provision for expansion of Medicaid.   Expanding Medicaid would save Virginia about $300 million over the next two years, freeing up funds for K-12 and other core services.

 The budget uses the 14.5% VRS rate (in line with the schedule adopted by the General Assembly in 2012) to address VRS unfunded liability.   This action improves the health of the retirement system and adds over $80 million to state costs each year. The General Assembly-approved schedule is set to fully fund the VRS rate by 2018-20.



The General Assembly did, however, decrease the funding for group life insurance and the retiree health care credit to 90% of the recommended amount.   This saves almost $10 million over the biennium.

 There is no funding for inflation for non-personal expenses, resulting in a reduction of $47 million each year.   Non-personal costs include utilities, fuel, health care insurance premiums and other costs.   The Senate’s earlier version of the budget funded 24% of inflation, $9.6 million, in 2014-15 only.

 There is no funding for the cost-of-competing for support positions in Northern Va. in either year. This action reduced costs by over $20 million. There is no change to the COCA for SOQ instructional positions.

 The methodology for the K-3 Class Size reduction program was revised to use a three year average of free lunch eligibility, rather than one year.   This cuts costs by over $10 million over the biennium.

 Governor McDonnell’s introduced budget maintained the projected VPI non-participation rate in both fiscal year 2015 and fiscal year 2016 at the same 25.43 percent rate contained in Chapter 806 for fiscal year 2014.    As a result, state funding for VPI was reduced by $24.2 million in fiscal year 2015 and $24.3 million in fiscal year 2016.   The adopted budget funds either the number of slots in McDonnell’s budget or the actual number used in fiscal year 2014, but at a reduced funding level. This adds $1 million to 2014-15 and $3.6 million in 2015-16.

 Funding that was in both the earlier House and Senate budgets to provide funding for school construction from the Literary Fund is eliminated.  The Literary Fund money will be used to offset costs of teacher retirement.

 The adopted financial plan revises the funding formula for the K-3 Class Size Reduction, program resulting in a cut to the program of $5.2 million each year.

 Strategic compensation grants are eliminated. These grants, funded at $7.5 million each year, were to provide performance and incentive payments of up to $5,000 for teachers in 13 school divisions who meet goals related to student achievement, professional growth and leadership.

 The budget includes $1.8 million each year to provide one reading or math specialist in under performing schools – those schools denied accreditation or accredited with warning for the third year.

 The Opportunity Educational Institution is stripped of all funding and staff.   The language says that no schools can be transferred to the OEI and that no funds can be transferred to it.

 Both plans include a number of technical changes such as updates to Lottery funds, sales tax and various corrections.

 Language that Gov. McAuliffe had included to allow local school divisions to participate in the state’s health plan was cut.

 The provision continuing Labor Day opening waivers for divisions that had a waiver in 2011-12 is included.

 There are a number of smaller appropriations for Jobs for Virginia Graduates, Positive Behaviorial Interventions, Project Discovery and several others. 

More information can be found at:
http://www.doe.virginia.gov/administrators/superintendents_memos/2014/158-14a.pdf


For the next two years, the General Assembly’s funding plan is approximately $250 less per pupil each year than state funding was in FY 2009.  Progress that was being made earlier in this General Assembly session was lost.   

When adjusted for inflation over the period, the per-pupil funding declines $800 in 2015 and $900 in 2016 compared to the 2009 per child amount.  This is a 20% decrease in per pupil funding when inflation is taken into account.

The state is mired in a period of revenue shortage and during difficult times everything suffers.    The Amherst Educational Association seeks to have the school board elected by the voters versus being appointed as they are now.


The Board of Supervisors Grappled with the Problem
ACV Blog
Supervisor Claudia Tucker  is pictured here with Chairman Ned.

When the Federal and State cut back on their funding it falls on the leadership in Amherst County to deal with the problem.    There was a revenue shortfall, no one wants to pay more in taxes.    It is a catch 22, a sticky wicket with no apparent solution.     

To bridge an anticipated budget shortfall ranging from $2 million to $4.2 million, Amherst County officials are looking at the possibility of raising real estate and personal property taxes for the second year in a row.

The shortfall range is based on two possible 2014-15 budget scenarios Amherst County Administrator Clarence Monday presented on March 12 at a Board of Supervisors meeting — one that funds all of the counties needs at a greater cost and another that takes a more frugal position but still sees a shortfall.

Both versions of the budget include the possibility of tax increases.   For real estate taxes, the potential increase would range from 2 cents to 14 cents above the current rate of .54 per $100 assessed value.   For personal property tax, the increase could be between 10 cents and 70 cents above the current rate of $3.45 per $100 assessed value.

In the higher-cost scenario, more items would be funded.

Ignoring the projected deficit of $4.22 million, county supervisors opted to use that version as a hypothetical starting point in its budget deliberations.

In that budget scenario, an overall $42 million budget, the school division would receive an additional $2.06 million over last year’s funding to bridge its own projected shortfall.   Two personnel positions would be created and maintenance items, such as a $230,000 allocation targeted for the former Amherst Baptist Church, would be fulfilled.


Supervisor John Marks, white shirt and tie, answering questions at a monthly meeting of the Amherst Democrats,  Chairman Ned standing to Mr. Marks left.

“I think it’s important for tax payers to know what it would cost to fund everything that certain constituencies want,” District 2 Supervisor Claudia Tucker said.   “And then, I think, we will collect information and collect feedback as we go through this process to come up with something that’s more realistic.”

To cover a scenario in which all these needs are fulfilled without drawing from the county’s undesignated fund reserve (rainey day fund), the board approved, with David Pugh opposing and 
Robert Curd absent, advertising tax increases of 14 cents in real estate taxes and a 70 cents in personal property.    If approved, the projected rates would equate to a real estate tax rate of 68 cents per $100 of assessed value and a personal property tax rate of $4.15 per $100 assessed value.    Supervisors also could opt to adopt rates lower than those advertised, though they could not go above those rates without starting the advertising process anew.

“The logic of that motion is, that I want the tax payers to see what it would cost to fully fund all of our needs, both board [of supervisors] and school board,” Tucker said.

In another version of the proposed budget, which is what Monday recommended, the county would provide $16.2 million to the schools, an increase of $300,000 over last year. 

With expenditures exceeding anticipated revenues, even this version of the proposed budget would have a shortfall of $2.16 million.   Contributing to the shortfall, Monday said, is a nearly $433,000 reduction in taxable real estate values during the 2014 reassessments.   Other items affecting this year’s budget are last year’s pay raise for county employees, and expenditures such as a nearly $200,000 increase in per diem expenses to the Blue Ridge Regional Jail.

To bridge the shortfall in this version of the budget, Monday proposed a 2-cent increase in real estate taxes and a 10-cent increase in personal property taxes, along with a $953,000 appropriation from the county’s (rainey day fund) undesignated funds. From 2009-13, the county’s “rainy day” undesignated fund balance increased by 38 percent to its current standing at $16.6 million.

In that proposed budget, county employees would not receive a pay increase, and only one staff position would be created:  a part-time human resources position that Monday felt was justified in the face of last year’s settlement with the U.S. Department of Labor concerning pay practices in the county’s 911 dispatch center.    In August, the county paid $103,881.92 to be split between 12 dispatch employees for the recovery of back pay.

“I really had to take a hard stance to get the budget balanced this year because of all the circumstances that came together,” Monday said.

A public hearing on the proposed budget was held on April 8 at 7 p.m. at Amherst County High School.

“It’s up to the people to let us know what they want in a public hearing,” Chairman Don Kidd said. “We’re spending their money, it’s not our money.”

The public spoke and that brings us to today.    How do you feel about the issue?    If you are interested in direct election of school board members contact President Lewis.

Melanie Lewis
Central Virginia UniServ, District 12
PO Box 4590
4849 Fort Avenue

Lynchburg, VA 24502-0590

434-239-7016

434-239-7030 - Fax


UPDATE:

School Board looks to implement study

For the first time since its release in August, the efficiency study of Amherst County Public Schools was scheduled as a discussion item of the county School Board during its daylong retreat on Wednesday.

During its regular meeting on Oct. 9, the school board strategized ways to approach the study, which recommends the school system spend an estimated $15.4 million over five years to increase efficiency while also identifying cost savings of $1.5 million.   For some board members including Beth Gamble and Randy Summers, a good approach was to look at each category of the study and make priorities.    According to Gamble, certain recommendations could be quickly implemented, such as discontinuing an employee assistance program because of low participation.

She noted the division’s current efforts in creating an employee handbook, which was recommended by the study, and suggested that administrators document those recommendations that are in the process of being realized.

“We’ve got 71 recommendations to look at. And if we only look at a very narrow portion, we’re not covering the whole system,” Gamble said.

Board chairman Alan Wood said tackling the entire study at once would be too overwhelming.   Instead, he suggested, the board should focus on a single section during the retreat while working through any questions it has about the study during that time.

“One section only?” board member Priscilla Liggon asked.

Liggon said she had not been aware that division administrators had begun implementing certain recommendations, and asked Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Julie Rogers if the board would be made aware of such changes at the retreat.

“Otherwise we will be fighting ourselves, if we’ve already started to cure the problem with some medicine and the rest of us don’t even know about the prescription, do we? 

We all want to be on the same page.”

During the public comment period, former school board member Jones Stanley admonished the board for having not prioritized and presented a plan for the study’s implementation.

“You people are the school board. You are supposed to be the greatest advocate for Amherst County Public Schools and the students that attend it. You should take the lead in getting these recommendations implemented.” Stanley said.   “Nothing’s been done. What are we waiting for?    Establish priorities, arrive at a plan and strongly encourage the supervisors to fund and implement the efficiency study. Amherst County Public Schools and the taxpaying citizens of Amherst County deserve, at least, that.”



Highlights of the Efficiency Study

Pleasant View and Temperance elementary schools

  While Pleasant View and Temperance both have average enrollments of fewer than 90 students, per-pupil costs of the two schools are not out of line with other division elementary schools.

According to the study, Pleasant View and Temperance elementary schools are “significantly under capacity and have been proposed as candidates for closure without benefit of an in-depth examination of closure consequences.”

Speaking of the division as a whole, the study notes that while Amherst County is not experiencing rapid growth, “it does not appear to be in a period of enrollment decline.”   The study further notes that the division is expected to see enrollment growth in the elementary to middle school levels based on five-year projections by the 
University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center.

“Based upon its experience with many school closure deliberations, the consulting team does not see clearly obvious and conclusive reasons to close Pleasant View and Temperance elementary schools at this time.”



Personnel cuts

The study notes the loss of 30 positions in the past five years often has forced remaining staff to absorb the work of others “without proper compensation.”

“The ACPS budget cuts over the last five years have stretched teachers and principals to the point of fatigue,” the report states.

The study recommended the division make a list as to which positions should be added back and when provided funding becomes available.

“The impact on programs and workloads must be addressed before it starts to have adverse effects on the quality of teachers and administration employed by ACPS.”

The study notes further that five elementary schools have been cited as schools in improvement and the math performances at each of those schools “is significantly deficient.”   At the same time that Standards of Learning tests have increased in rigor, the number of reading and math specialists has decreased.   In response, the study 
recommends the hiring of two math specialists to be shared by the schools in improvement.   The study also advocates the hiring of a mathematics supervisor to relieve some of the burdens from the existing math and science supervisor.



School board elections

The study notes that fewer than 3.8 percent of school boards nationally are appointed.   Elections take “the power of patronage out of the hands of the county board of supervisors or other authority, thereby shifting the priorities of the school board from serving the county to serving students, their parents, and the community,” the 
study states.

As a recommendation, the study advises school officials to press the issue of elections, adding that a petition process can be waived if the board of supervisors calls for a referendum.

The study also notes the tumultuous relationship between the two boards; supervisors accuse the school board of wasting money while the schools blame the county for funding shortages and appointing people to the school board who are perceived as not being supportive of the schools.   The study recommends that the school board support the county in long-range planning, including participation in discussions about economic
development.

“While most civic leaders want to do what is best for their communities, it is easy to lose sight of the common good and focus instead on a personal agenda, particularly when sectors of the community call for partisan politics.”

ACVDN urges the petition process be waived by the board of supervisors and that they call for a referendum, thus putting this decision where it belongs, in the hands of the Amherst County voters.

Financial management

The study advocates improving internal control processes, such as in the division’s payroll division, which is located in the human resources department.

“Having the employee who processes payrolls reporting to the supervisor who also approves employee compensation is considered a weakness in internal controls,” the study states.

The study also recommends the hiring of a staff member to assist the chief financial officer, which would aid internal control processes.



Food services

The study notes that the cafeterias at Pleasant View and Temperance operate at a loss with “extremely high” labor costs in addition to high food costs.  The study says a potential solution is that existing personnel — including bus drivers and teachers aides or even a parent — assist service during meal times.

The study recommends reducing child nutrition staff hours at those schools.   It also encourages the development of strategies to increase student participation in the schools’ meal programs.



Facilities maintenance

The study notes that the division does not fund facilities maintenance at “best practice levels” and a “considerable” amount of deferred maintenance has accrued over time.

“In the long run, a chronic unaddressed accumulation of deferred maintenance will cost Amherst County taxpayers an average of 15 to 40 times the original maintenance cost that has been deferred,” the study notes.   The study recommends the division provide an annual level of funding to remedy the deferred maintenance issues at a cost of roughly $1.8 up to $1.9 million over a five-year period, if other recommended expenditures are implemented.



Technology

The study notes that the division has “no dedicated local funds for the purchase of additional technology equipment.”    Teachers also need more professional development in integrating technology into the classroom, it states.


The study recommends the replacement of an instructional technology resource teacher lost during earlier budget cuts.



Study Shows More Money Needed.   Where Will It Come From?


The Amherst County Board of Supervisors may need to shell out more money to the county school system in the coming years to make the division more efficient.

According to a study, Amherst County Public Schools should spend an estimated $15.4 million more over five years to increase efficiency. In contrast, estimated savings amounted to only $1.5 million.

For some past and current school officials, the results of the efficiency study, released Thursday night, was a moment of vindication.

Efficiency studies are voluntary programs designed to recommend cost-saving measures within a division. In Amherst County, the study was conducted by Prismatic Services, Inc.

School divisions that undergo an efficiency study are required to implement 50 percent of the recommendations within a two-year period or achieve 50 percent of the 
potential savings.

During a joint meeting Thursday evening between the Amherst County Board of Supervisors and the school board, Prismatic founder Tatia Prieto gave a brief summary of the contents of the study.

Prismatic held site visits in April and requested detailed information about the division.

“It was a very invasive process,” Prieto said.

Information about the division was compared to school systems of similar enrollment and composite index and percentage of free and reduced lunch.

Prieto said Prismatic will find cost-savings, if those savings are to be found.

“We’re not above digging … through couch cushions to find the quarters at the bottom,” Prieto said.

Out of 73 recommendations made by Prismatic, 31 had “fiscal impacts.”

While some community members feared Pleasant View and Temperance elementary schools would be closed because of their small size, the study’s first recommendation was not to close any school, a response that received massive support from the crowd.

Instead, the school system should improve the use of the schools through redistricting all elementary schools.

“We need to redistrict, we need to rezone, we need to adjust the attendance in Amherst,” Prieto said.

Another recommendation that drew thunderous applause was to seat new members to the school board through elections as opposed to the current system of appointment by the Amherst County Board of Supervisors.

The report also recommended the creation of new positions — math specialists, a financial assistant to the division’s chief financial officer and custodial personnel.

The school system should fully-fund “reactive and preventive maintenance of school facilities at best practices” which, according to Prieto, was the biggest expenditure in the report at $1.9 million.

“It is hard to emphasize enough how much preventative maintenance is important to a school division,” Prieto said.

In contrast to the substantial investment recommended, the report only highlights $1.5 million in savings over five years.

Superintendent Steven Nichols said after the meeting he spent more than a month last year reviewing the school system in a manner similar to Prismatic.

“I said publicly then that our schools were in very good shape and were a bargain for the taxpayers,” Nichols said. “Tonight I’ve been vindicated by an agency of state government and an outside contractor.   We are efficient.    The gap between what we need and what we’ve been getting is a large sum of money, and we’re now going to move forward trying to find ways, to help the Board of Supervisors find ways, to fulfill our obligations.”

Board of Supervisors Chairman Don Kidd has been a long-time proponent for an efficiency study.

“The citizens of Amherst County are justly proud of its excellent school system,” Kidd said in a prepared statement.   “The administration will be working hard to find the funding to implement the recommendations of the efficiency study.

“We have something to gauge now and that’s excellent.   All of us are on the same playing field and are on level ground and I’m looking forward to the school board and the Board of Supervisors working together.”

School board member Beth Gamble said she was not surprised by the outcome and was pleased with the recommendation regarding Pleasant View and Temperance elementary 
schools, which she called integral parts of the community.

Former school board member Jones Stanley was jubilant.

“I want a great big headline:  Schools are efficient — super efficient,” Stanley said.

In June, Stanley challenged the Board of Supervisors to a wager: if the efficiency study failed to recommend the redistricting of the county to increase enrollment of Pleasant View and Temperance elementary schools, then Stanley would stand at the traffic circle in the town of Amherst and make a public apology.   If his prediction was 
accurate, Stanley expected the Board of Supervisors to reciprocate the action.

“I expect to see Mr. Kidd at the traffic circle …” Stanley said.








Re Elect Warner Action Under Way
ACV Blog
Senator Mark Warner thanks all the Amherst Democrats working hard for his re-election.

Photos from Meeting and Phone Bank

ACV Blog
Am Dems in Action manning the Mark Warner for Senate phone banks.


above photo from Warner breakfast at Sweet briar



US NEWS POLITICS WORLD NEWS


Amherst County Virginia Democratic News


ACVDN


President Obama Reads The Democratic News