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School Board clashes over citizen panel

February 11, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Washington County Board of Education members clashed Thursday over the suspension of a citizens committee intended to get the public involved in the development of the school system's annual budget.

Executive Director of Support Services William McKinley sent the 12-member Budget Advisory Committee a memo last month asking them to suspend their meetings.

School Board President Edwin Hayes said he asked McKinley to send the memo. School Board member B. Marie Byers said the full board didn't authorize that action.

She objected to it during a work session Thursday afternoon. The advisory committee provides "collaborative community input" and "it should not be put on hold," she said.

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Byers called the suspension "a strategy to delete the committee and their input."

Gordon Crabb, the committee's chairman, also doesn't want the panel to suspend activities.

In a letter to McKinley dated Jan. 26, he wrote, "I do not believe the education of our children is best served by suspending meetings."

Crabb was an unsuccessful School Board candidate in the last election.

In a meeting last month, he and committee member Teri Williamson asked the School Board to redefine the group's role.

"One of the biggest frustrations in the committee is there doesn't seem to be any guidance," Williamson said on Jan. 5. "What we do as a committee really has become null and void. What is your expectation? How can we be better utilized?"

At that meeting, the School Board agreed to revise the committee's mission statement. Hayes and Board Vice President Paul Bailey met with committee representatives on Jan. 12.

On Jan. 13, McKinley sent a memo suggesting the committee suspend its meetings. The committee has not met since.

The action is temporary, according to McKinley. "We don't have any intention of doing away with that committee," he said.

The committee was charged with reviewing the schools superintendent's proposed budget. According to its guidelines, it is supposed to "provide an independent response."

This year's budget process is different from those of previous years. In the past, preparation began in the School Board's central office.

It now begins in the schools, where "budget teams" of teachers, parents and principals develop funding priorities.

As a result, the School Board no longer uses the Budget Advisory Committee's community surveys to ask residents what they wanted for their schools.

Hayes said the advisory committee is "on hold" until the School Board can give it new instructions. "It needs better vision and direction," he said.

"They're kind of in limbo right now," he said. "Maybe they won't have any impact this budget cycle but they'll be there next year."

Bailey is scheduled to give a report on all of the School Board's subcommittees on Feb. 16.

In an interview Wednesday, Crabb said it is not feasible for the committee to give advice at this point.

"I regret it, but the Budget Advisory Committee is out of the loop for this year's budget," he said.

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