My Side of the Fence

The danger isn't going too far. It's that we don't go far enough.

111 Teachers? wt…

It seems as though our good Dr. Magouyrk is up to something.  I've seen an article on the Patch, petitions on Facebook calling for at least defeat of this plot and, at worst, hanging in the public square.  I've also had several parents write me asking me to explain what the deal is.  I hate to disappoint everyone but I really don't know all of the particulars of education policy.  Indeed, my critics would gleefully point out that I'm probably lucky to remember to breathe!  However, I do try to help things along when I can make a call and get a meeting with someone.  I did just that with the good Dr. (btw, I'm shortening her name to D-Mag from now on.  It's just too cool a moniker not to use.  Too bad I don't have one.  "A-harr" is just sad) and she agreed to meet me for lunch to explain the goings-on.

First of all, I need to tell anyone who bothers to read this screed that I'll roll through my conversation with D-Mag and then onto a bit of an opinion piece.  You'll probably want to skip the opinion piece as you'll be drooling and clinging to consciousness about halfway through it so….you've been warned.

I met with the Superintendent at my city office for lunch.  We've met a few times before and, while I wouldn't consider us BFF's, I do think we're comfortable enough with each other to have a discussion.  I asked her straight away to explain the 111-teacher layoff and here's what I got:  It isn't a layoff.  The 111 number is based on the State's recommended SOL staffing formula.  Stated differently, the state has a formula that they use to give guidance as to how many teachers are required for a given number of children.  When you apply that formula to Manassas, you end up with 111 too many positions.  I pointed out that this seemed to be a relatively crude measure of staffing and she agreed.  What she has done is to take those "excess" positions and ask the Principals in the affected schools to justify those positions.  If they really need 'em, she'll keep them.  If they are teachers with 3 students in a class then maybe not.  She also offered that as those positions are above the state formula, Manassas receives no state funding for them.  In a system that spends more on a per-student basis than our surrounds, she believes it is important to be mindful of that gap.  I agree.

I decided to press her somewhat on the spending gap and what could create that delta.  She indicated that she didn't have all of the answers but that she's looking everywhere.  At least some of that is evidenced by her zero-based budgeting approach this year and her determination to make a difficult change if she believes it will make a difference.  I could tell from our discussion that this gap bothers her quite a bit.  She's a pretty conservative gal I think.  Certainly the staff numbers need examination but so do, in her opinion, all of the operational areas.

The last thing we talked about was the Central Office saga.  She indicated that she currently has her staff spread across all of the school buildings in the City.  I don't really see that as a crisis but understand the concern.  Of more interest to her is rebuilding Baldwin elementary school.  Enrollment in our schools is increasing and we need more space for those kids.  Pretty much everyone agrees that the cheapest way to make that happen is to build that new school on the same space occupied by the Central Office – we already own the land.  This means, of course, that Central Office has to move elsewhere.  

That pretty much summed up our conversation as we both agreed it would be a quick lunch.  So….what do I think?  I think that this is all pretty normal.  Is it counter-intuitive that a reduction in headcount could produce better results?  sure but a resulting increase in focus might be very productive.  Does it seem frivolous to be interested in new digs for the school administration?  Maybe, but not in light of the plan for rebuilding Baldwin.  Look, change makes people uncomfortable.  Change is a hard, nasty business.  Established interests oppose it.  Proponents tar opponents as dim-witted Luddites.  Parents get nervous and PTA's get involved.  After all, you're shaking up the environment in which those same parents most cherished possessions are: their children.  Everyone wants the best for their children.  

However, more and more of our residents are deciding that "the best" for their children means moving.  This is not a tenable situation.  We must change our schools for the better and the only way that can happen is to plow the tough ground ahead of us.  I believe we must give our Superintendent the room to do the fact-finding, planning and re-organizing that her expertise leads her to believe are necessary.  Might it cost some folks their jobs or end up costing the city more money?  It might.  It might not.  I don't have any idea just yet but I do know this: what we were doing previously wasn't working and if our system is to be successful it must look different.  As I've stated before, we've got kick-ass teachers and good administrators.  There's no reason we can't be successful but the one thing we can't do is be afraid to take the difficult decisions.  This system can't look or work like it did before.  It's going to take a couple of difficult years but this is what Manassas has always done.  Our leadership and our citizens have joined arms dozens of times over the past 50 years and done the tough duty: Lake, airport, school system, building new schools, career fire and rescue and on and on.  We're not afraid of the hard work.  

The one thing that I do know for sure is that if your idea of change is to simply parachute a different body into the corner office over on Tudor Lane every coupla years that the ultimate failure of the whole system is screaming towards us at 500 miles an hour.  No organization on the planet does such a thing and is successful.  You bring in new leaders 'cause the organization ain't working and needs new vision, direction and energy.  Those three things ultimately result in an organization that looks different.  Give D-Mag some support and room to work.  Roll up your sleeves and pitch in.  I was as surprised as anyone else by this turn of events but after chatting with her, I think it's still something I'm willing to support as a path forward. We must pursue all paths forward, even the difficult ones.


  1. We need to give her a solid shot at accomplishing her goals. We've had some false starts here and there before and we need to let some good momentum build with our new superintendent. I've had a chance to chat with her a little bit and I'm willing to allow her the latitude to succeed. We certainly do have striong participatory rights as citizens, and participate we do, but there do need to be some self-imposed constraints on managing the peanut gallery.  You're right A, it's time for difficult paths.

  2. Oops, that should be "…managing 'from' the peanut gallery."

  3. Simply Sweet really is grounds central!  C-Bro 

  4. Thanks Andy.  For anyone who hadn't heard The superintendent's public remarks regarding the "we're laying off 111 teachers " story, this should help keep things straight.  Looking forward to increased citizen participation as her plans are developed and the CIP discussions continue. 

  5. She needs a chance. I hear ya. But- capital spending won't get us reaccredited- true leadership will, hope we have it.  Higher taxes than PWC will run even more folks off, fact.  Why the hell wouldn't it?  Roll up your sleeves and pitch in? That attitude has not necessarily been welcome in the recent past w/ Pope&Meyer.  At all.  They did not have an open office policy. Not even a little bit.  As for all the impending cuts, there were no rumors, check the memo emailed to all MCPS teachers. BTW, what about meaningful vocational curriculum? Eli Lily values Indiana's curriculum. I hope we are going to focus on modernizing that, rather than eliminating it, as only 21% of our seniors attend a 4 yr. university. If not, should we really focus on 1 out of 5, and hope the rest go away?  Just facts, don't fire on the messenger-

  6. Rob:
    Two things:
    1.  I agree that the previous admin wasn't exactly welcoming but I'm not sure what that has to do with now?
    2.  Are the millionaires in lake manassas moving back to manassas b/c our taxes are a couple hundred bucks lower?  My observation is that even my middle-income neighbors in Oakenshaw are fleeing Manassas for PWC….where taxes are higher….fact.

  7.       PWC               tax rate 1.209, fire levy .0744, gypsy moth levy .0025,    Total 1.2859
    Manassas           tax rate 1.192,  fire levy .174,    Total 1.366
    Manassas Park tax rate  1.65
    I believe the new superintendant is on the right track and should be given the chance and authority to improve things.
    I don't mind paying taxes and I've even gotten used to the doubling of them over the last ten years, but when my kids wouldn't even consider the city because of the schools and bought in the county it makes me wonder where half of my $3600 in property tax is going.
    The assessments are going up more than the rate of inflation so that should bring in some more money, but I can not support a raise in the rate.
    Thank you

  8. I applaud Dr. D-Mag's effort, and I also believe part of the issue is folks don't understand what a "Zero-Based Budget" process is:  you tear the budget apart, look at all the pieces, justify all the pieces, then put it back together.  That is a colloquial definition, not an official one.
    But also in all this is process has been her efforts to build a solid, logical Strategic Plan (and for the record, I was a citizen participant of the MCPS Finance Strategic Plan Workgroup). 
    Speaking of Strategic Plans, since the Council's Draft Plan also includes the Schools, I shake my head when looking at the City Manager's Budget Calendar for the 2014 Budget.  The draft was released, there was that "All Senior Staff" meeting at the Candy Factory to work on it, and now there will be two Council worksessions next week, followed by the Council approving it on Feb. 25th.  Unfortunately, I do not see where there is a chance for public comment nor a draft released where the various Board/Committees/Commissions would have a chance to review and comment – thereby lending their expertise. 

    Virginia  rankings:
    – Per capita average income       –                 8th                    $ 46,469
    – State per pupil funding  –                             38th                  $  4,411
    – State and local funding per pupil-                21st                  $10,574
     The Commonwealth of Virginia, one of the nation's wealthiest states, provides
     meager funding for public education.  Local governments are tasked with providing
    over half the funding needed.

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