Sunday, February 13, 2011

Chesterfield: Two Boards Divided Revisited

It been one year since the fireworks and strained relations between Chesterfield County's two governing bodies in the Board of Supervisors and School Board was made public. These things had previously always remained behind close doors, but last year at this time the County was facing some very hard financial climbs and citizens were demanding leaders respond to the forces on the ground in our community.

Ultimately, the Board of Supervisors would reject the proposal to raise the real estate tax (property) by five cents in order to meet the gap that the County was facing in the School Board budget. This followed weeks of sparring between the two Boards over budget matters and fiscal responsibility.

One year later I am not so sure we have really made a progress on the relations front. There is still visible tension between the two bodies and it is not going to get any easier with looming shortfall to funding the next budget let alone the current proposals by the Schools. If you recall, Feb. 9th, 2010 School Board member Omarh Rajah(Matoaca) stated publicly during the School Board meeting that:

"As soon as we present our budget, guess what the other ones(BOS) do?Well, why do you need this and why do you need that?We do a line item with the BOS. Don't let them put the spin job on you, because that's exactly what they're doing.We do that in every one of our meetings, When we have joint meetings, we give them this, we give them line item stuff. And we present that to them. Don't let them fool you into thinking that we don't. By law we have to present everything. We don't hold anything back. We can't do it, we must balance our budget. Every year we have to do this. So if the BOS says to me or you one more time that the school system is not showing us all of our documentation, They're lying. They are lying to you...I don't believe the BOS are anti-education, I believe they are anti-youth. You look at a majority of their budget cuts, it comes on the backs of youth. From schools, and to their county programs"

While lately such local papers as the Chesterfield Observer seem bent on portraying Mr. Rajah as nothing more than an annoyance, it really begs the question why it is papers like the Observer have not taken Mr. Rajah's comments and criticisms of the process and investigated the validity of such claims. Instead, there seems to be a consistent effort to portray Rajah as an outsider. In fact, recently the Observer ran a piece entitled "Rajah distances himself from CCPS/school board"(Feb. 9, 2011) which touched on a topic Rajeh has been trying to address for three years and that is the overcapacity of schools like Cosby. Are not the facts, the facts? Are we not constantly told that we need "data driven" measures in the County? Well, the data is in and has been in for years; Rajah was right on target to seek a Cosby to accommodate 2,000+ because the school is overcapacity by 30%.

I wonder why it is the Chesterfield Observer or other papers in the area have not investigated just why it is Cosby got built in the manner in which it did. Why were the voices (not unlike today) silenced out or in the case of Rajeh portrayed as "distancing" himself from the Board when he has simply be a dissenting voice to the status quo. The Board of Supervisors does not want to face the political football that is redistricting, but anyone with any sense of integrity on the matter knows that's the coming outcome.

These leaders have stated recently that they believe that enrollment at some of the schools that are at overcapacity will decline in enrollment in the coming years. In fact, the reported number that Cosby High will only add 20 students between now and 2019 appears absurd. How does the County derive such predictions?

According to Tim Billis, Director of School Community Relations "the enrollment projections for Chesterfield are built using school and county data.An analysis is developed based on a variety of factors including live birth rates and county developments such as approved developments and approved residential lots."(Chesterfield Observer Feb. 9, 2011)

What Mr. Billis should have included in his explanation is the word "redistricting". The only way the County will keep the enrollment number from rising and hitting only 20 new students between now and 2019 would be if the took out a pencil and redrew Cosby High School's boundaries.

So once again, Omarh Rajah appears to be ahead of the curve in Chesterfield much to the chagrin of the establishment in the County. After all, if I was to decide to move my family to Magnolia Green this summer and that development was not redistricted I would be adding some three new students alone to that 20 number.

But then thats just how "data" works these days. Forget about the philosophy that if you build it they will come which gets ignored by our planners evidently because we have enough homes going up right now in Harpers Mill and Magnolia Green to totally blow away the County "data" and those are just two of the many new developments in the "current" Cosby zone that could see improving sales in the next two years.

So one year later, School Board member Omarh Rajah is still out there making the case for reasonable solutions and one year later Rajeh is still being ignored by the majority of the leaders in the County. I wonder what else will have to happen for papers like the Chesterfield Observer to begin to have some balance to its pieces, but this is of course is an election year and there appears a vested interest in focusing on what Rajeh is saying rather than what our Boards are actually doing.


Anonymous said...

I hear it all the time about how Rajah is too combative or outspoken, but does that diminish what it is he is saying?

People may not like his style, but if he runs again he has my vote.

This budget is the work of the school associations attemtping to protect what they see as theirs and not what is in the best interest of students or residents.

But than thats a union for you.

Anonymous said...

So in effect, NOTHING has changed. Both want to operate independently and cater to their own interests.

The ironic thing is this new comprehensive planning notion appear to benefit both sets of interests which is why the schools have been quiet on the matter. Developers and schools interest happy with it if it means more spending and larger budgets to accomodate it.

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