Thursday, December 4, 2008

Legislative Program – Luncheon with City and School Officials

Delegate William Fralin, Delegate Onzlee Ware, and Senator John Edwards were not optimistic when they responded to the Roanoke City School Board regarding their concerns of reduced funding to schools.

School Board member Todd Putney asked that divisions be permitted to apply for waivers from the Standards of Accreditation (SOA) and the Standards of Quality (SOQ) that are impacted by funding cuts.

School Board Chairman, David Carson said that “RCPS is looking at the state to grant us great flexibility in meeting the Standards of Quality. In particular, if we are going to get our state funding slashed, then it seems to us that rather than having to continue meeting all of the rigid state SOQs, the state should grant us flexibility with respect to the some of them so that we can use our limited money wisely.”

Putney stressed as a priority funding 12-month raises for teachers saying that this reflects directly on teacher morale and “if you underpay people you will loose them.”

There was support for the incentive to tie retaining student’s driving privilege to a student’s acceptable progress towards graduation. “There needs to be some teeth behind this in order to help the school system increase the graduation rate,” said Putney. Delegate Fralin said he would take Carson up on his offer to come to Richmond to lobby for this bill.

“We also continue to struggle with getting our test scores,” said Putney. He added that it disrupts school operations and goal setting processes when tests taken in May are received in late October. Putney, asked the legislatures to “raise the bar on this effort …we are making very, very serious decisions about our schools and if we don’t have the data – its borderline irresponsible of us to move forward without it.” Delegate Fralin said that it is not just a matter of running the tests through a machine. There are tests that need to be graded by hand for special needs kids. Fralin said that Putney was exactly right but he was not promising that the bill would pass if additional funding is involved. He promised “to work really hard at it.“
School Administrator, Rita Bishop, in a plea to maintain RCPS funding said “safety withstanding, roads will wait, kids won’t.” Bishop said that RCPS is making significant progress but we have some children that come from “difficult circumstances.”

Senator Edwards said that the state “will be facing the worst budget shortfall in our history.” He said as of now the shortfall stands at $3.2 billion. Edwards said that this may be the first year “in memory that education may actually have to be cut.” He emphasized that they are trying to make sure cuts do not affect educational services. Edwards quoted the unimproved national average graduation rate of 70% saying, “we as a society have not made progress… we need to do better.”

Delegate Onzlee Ware said, “I don’t see enough parent participation… we let them [parents] off the hook too much.” He said, “you can throw money at it … but its got to start in the home.” Ware asked Council to make sure the initiatives they put forth are a priority for the City. Ware said, “to use practical good common sense … if projects need to be delayed then do it!

Delegate William Fralin said to expect program eliminations like the Drug Courts program. Fralin said we should be advocating for passenger rail service as a group. Fralin is piggybacking on Senator Edwards bill for statewide rail service with a bill of his own that would be a regional rail authority to make it happen. Fralin is also onboard with the Hotel Roanoke expansion plan and touted it as one of the most successful projects that Roanoke had undertaken.

Roanoke City is asking for a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) exemption to permit governing bodies to discuss in closed meetings the granting of economic development incentives for projects which already have been announced publicly.

According to the City Attorney, William Hackworth, this is the second year for this exemption request. The IMD incentive negotiations over the Ivy Market Walgreen’s played out publicly at the last Council meeting and stands as an example of the kind of exemption targeted for secrecy.

Senator John Edwards said it was unlikely that this exemption request would bypass scrutiny by the Freedom of Information Advisory Board.

When contacted by email Megan Rhyne, Director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government (VCOG) stated that, “The city already has leeway to discuss incentives before the announcement by virtue of 2.2-3711(A)(5). By granting an exemption for post-decision talks about incentives, the public would be completely closed out of the process. The public has an interest in knowing whether the cost of the incentives are worth the benefits of having the business locate there. Incentives will ultimately impact the individual and business taxpayers in the area. If a business who has already agreed to come (prompting the announcement), and now it’s somehow getting cold feet because the city isn’t subsequently ponying up enough incentives, well the citizens might want to know that so they can weigh in on whether it is a good idea for the business to come to town or not after all.”

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Roanoke City Politics

Tags: , ,


No Comments

Comments are not moderated. Notify any abuse at put ABUSE in the subject and the offensive post.

Leave a Reply