Social Notes from the Sunday Supper Club (SSC)
April 10th, 2011 at the MCC* (5:30-7:30pm)
Proving once again that the Sunday Supper Club is THE place to be on the second Sunday of the month Dr. Jonathan Lewis gave a great presentation on many issues currently affecting the Fauquier County Public School (FCPS) system. FCPS consists of 20 separate educational complexes built from 1932 through today.
Five Minute Flash Reports
Treasurer’s Report- Treasurers Anne Tennant and Joe Swift reported that we collected $5 at our last meeting, bringing our bank balance to $339.55. We have no immediate upcoming expenses.
Camp Wellstone-Claiborne Crain encouraged everyone to check out the Training Calendar for Wellstone Action events. Wellstone Action’s weekend training programs provide hands-on practical training in grassroots politics for citizen activists, campaign workers, and people interested in running for office. For more information, visit http://www.wellstone.org/our-programs
Finite Energy Conservation- Michael Rainger reported on finite energy conservation within Fauquier County (www.energized-fauquier.com) with public school savings of $330K in FY10 (not doing so well this fiscal year) and County Government savings of about $100K over the past 18 months though December 2010. Michael has also helped Vint Hill EDA save about $5K in 6 months and he has just started working with the Town of Warrenton per the Mayor George Fitch announcement at the March meeting of the SSC. Michael went through the energy case study of a family moving from Richmond to Fairfax and reducing their electrical bill by 82% ( a record result) in 60 days and correcting a 50% increase in energy consumption by a rental home due to lack of occupant knowledge concerning the dual heating systems. Later corrected by a conversation between owner and tenant, utility invoices are now back to normal for the time of year.
Fauquier County Public Schools Superintendent
Dr. Jonathan Lewis
Anyone who reads the Fauquier Times Democrat is aware that the Fauquier County Public Schools have been dealing recently with controversial subject matter including school capacity / redistricting, efficiency of operations, energy conservation, year one of strategic planning implementation, Fauquier High School LEED addition, and continuing budget shortfalls (year 3). The Sunday Supper Club is grateful to Superintendent Dr. Jonathan Lewis for taking time out of his very busy schedule to speak with us and to Michael Rainger for introducing Dr. Lewis and moderating the meeting.
Dr. Lewis brought everyone up-to-date with the “good news” results of saving $330K in electrical utility costs in FY10 (July 2009 – June 2010) by removing items such as refrigerators and microwaves from individual classrooms, turning off lights in vending machines, reviewing ball- field and parking lot lighting needs. By targeting this “low hanging fruit” FCPS was able to dramatically reduce electrical costs; it was noted that maintaining these reduced power usage levels is a continuous process and that FY11 might show less improvement in finite energy usage in our public schools.
The next round of savings is planned by upgrading lighting systems to newer technologies and PB Smith will be the first beneficiary during this coming summer break. Dr. Lewis noted that he had been advised that lighting accounts for more energy consumption than heating and cooling systems and others might not agree. Energy Conservation expert Michael duly responded – Depends on building, occupants, equipment and maintenance but that Dr. Lewis was right – he did not agree!
Dr. Lewis talked at length about the Fauquier High School Addition / Renovation project. The building has been designed by VMDO Architects in Charlottesville, VA, a firm widely recognized for excellence in designing educational facilities and for building unique schools for unique communities. The new 4-story addition is to be constructed following LEED certified parameters including geothermal, natural lighting, and automatic internal light systems using the latest technologies. The 80,000+ square feet of new space will be between the existing road that accesses the south parking area and current buildings except the 100/200 block (built in 1962) which will be demolished.
The controversial price tag of $25M was presented with points such as now is the cheapest time for new construction, new band and art building extensions may yet be included depending on actual bids received from contractors, students deserve the best that we can provide, and that Fauquier High School (FHS) has long been the poor relation when compared to Liberty and Kettle Run High Schools.
Features such as an amphitheater for “outdoor” classes, concerts, and leisure areas for students and the 20 foot high display of the “Falcon” on glass above the entrance put FHS “on the map” of “best in class.” The renewable energy / sustainability aspects of the project will provide lasting and permanent “learning” opportunities for all students (10,000+), parents, teachers and guests in the FCPS system.
Elementary school redistricting has been a very controversial topic over the last few months. Dr. Lewis pointed out that many of the new families to the county live along the Rt. 29 corridor. This has led to schools in this area operating at full or almost full capacity while others in the county are at less than 60% capacity. In past years, short term solutions had been implemented but Dr. Lewis believed that we needed to find a longer term solution for the problem. An administrative committee was created to come up with an unbiased plan for redistricting with a goal of leveling all schools at approximately 80% capacity. The plan the committee arrived at affects fewer than 325 elementary school students- approximately 6% of the population.
Note- Redistricting approved the following evening (4/11/11) by a School Board vote of 4-1.
FCPS are struggling to deal with financial challenges caused by the latest (10%) budget cut. The schools are faced with a flat funding stream but increased costs due to rising health insurance premiums, and increased costs for fuel and energy. Dr. Lewis stated that the school system recognizes that current times are challenging for all and he is constantly asking the question: “Can we be better stewards of taxpayer dollars?” At the same time, he emphasized the need for all of us to look at our priorities. Fauquier County values our small schools but they are expensive to maintain. As costs continue to rise we must increase funding for the schools or face the reality of having to construct much larger schools with potentially many more students in each class.
Note (1): School Board member Sally Murray was present and added her thoughts and perspectives throughout the meeting.
Note (2): Board of Supervisors represented at this event by Holder Trumbo.
Questions and Answers
What can citizens do to support our public schools? Dr. Lewis mentioned the importance of being knowledgeable consumers of the activities of FCPS. Visit www.fcps1.org for detailed information on what is happening now and in the future.
How do you feel about the current focus on high stakes testing? Although FCPS does well on SOL testing, Dr. Lewis believes the current No Child Left Behind Act places far too much emphasis on high stakes testing. For example, the one school in Fauquier County which did not make AYP (Annual Yearly Progress) failed to do so because only 2 children in one subgroup did not pass the SOLs.
How did you develop the strategic plan and how is implementation coming along?
The Strategic Planning process was transformational. FCPS hired the Cambridge Group, a nationally and internationally recognized leader in strategic planning for school districts, to assist with the process. A team was put together which reflected our entire community. The final result, Aspirations 2015, consists of 135 strategic action plans and Michael Rainger (participant in team #7 with Dr. Lewis) commented that fully 20 – 25% of these Action Items have a direct relationship to energy and related matters. 35 are currently being implemented during FY11. The Strategic Plan is resulting in many practical and innovative solutions at all levels of our educational processes and more are being added as the process matures and experience levels increase.
Why is the $63M cost of the Fauquier High School addition / renovation still being discussed in Letters to the (local) Editor? This is an unfortunate rumor that began last year. Until the project is bid and built the eventual cost is unknown. However, we currently feel that all key requirements for new construction can be met for a total cost of around $31M. The band and the arts have constantly mentioned that they also need new buildings and we are trying to accommodate their realistic requirements / needs.
How is the cost being funded? We originally asked the Board of Supervisors for $25M. The latest scenario is that (in this sequence) the FCPS will provide about $6.3M from cash reserves, the State of Virginia will provide $10M interest free (worth about $5M) and the BOS will provide the balance next spring (about $8.7M).
What is the construction schedule? As soon as the summer break begins in June, perimeter fences will go up. Opening ceremonies are planned for November 2012. Bad weather can have a negative impact. School is to remain open and in use during construction. Parking is going to be a problem.
Does the cost include all renovations? Short answer is “NO.” Normal ongoing capital improvement projects will continue in all schools including FHS. Planned examples include PB Smith Lighting, normal replacement of roofs, HVAC equipment, etc. These items are part of the continuous budget process.
How do you communicate with the public? Anyway we can. Web site, press, announcements, articles, presentations, public requests – the list is long. FCPS is open to any and all suggestions that help to disseminate data, information, events, etc.
*MCC – Marshall Community Center (not the Middlesex Cricket Club in England)
The “meeting” ended at 7:35pm with a standing ovation to Dr. Lewis. Many stayed behind to ask him more questions until the doors closed at 8pm.