Friday, April 12, 2024

York County School Board Adopts Two Policy Writing Services

York County School Board is shown here in this screen grab from its March 25 meeting. (YouTube)

YORK COUNTY — York County School Board received a presentation from the School Board Member Alliance at its March 25 meeting, and chose to adopt both the Virginia School Board Association and School Board Member Alliance for policy writing services.

The School Board Member Alliance (SBMA) was created by Sherri Story, a former member of the Suffolk City School Board. She has said in interviews that she created it as a conservative alternative school board association for Christians and those who do not hold a secular worldview.

The policy writing services were up for discussion as the current contract with the Virginia School Board Association (VSBA) had expired under the new board leadership. VSBA has been the policy writer for York County School Division (YCSD) since 2011. VSBA made its presentation to the board on March 11.

VSBA describes itself as a nonpartisan organization of Virginia school boards that promotes excellence in public education through leadership, advocacy, and services.

During the meeting, a motion was made by Vice Chair Kim Goodwin to adopt SBMA as the board’s policy writing service. During the discussion of the motion, questions were raised by board member James Richardson and board attorney Melanie Berry.

“I have concerns about litigation, but I’d like to defer to our attorney and get her opinion because that was our original discussion, was to get her to vet the two and make a recommendation. So I’d just like to hear from her before we vote,” Richardson said.

Berry’s recommendation was to continue using VSBA for policy writing services.

“VSBA provides a complete base of sample policy, available at all times to staff. Policies are drafted by an attorney which gives me confidence that the statutes, regulations, and case law have been interpreted correctly. They are fully available and responsive to email and phone requests,” Berry said.

“I have concerns regarding SBMA’s lack of a full database of policies as well as the legal sufficiency of the policies through SBMA as they clearly state in all their literature that they do not provide legal advice,” she continued. “As Ms. Goodwin stated, I have a lot of duties and I rely on a full policy database to help me to review your policies and policy changes.”

Despite multiple attempts to join SBMA, Berry said she has been denied access. Richardson and fellow board member Mark Shafer also noted that they had not been given much information from SBMA, despite asking for it.

During a discussion of the cost of the services, board chair Lynda Fairman informed the board that the cost for VSBA policy writing services for one year is $3,750. The board must also be a full member of VSBA to access the service, which costs around $13,000. The yearly cost for SBMA policy writing services is $2,900 and membership to SBMA is not required to use the policy writing services.

“You get what you pay for and it bothers me that they don’t have any lawyers on staff,” Shafer remarked.

Board member Zoran Pajevic questioned Berry as to how frequently she reviews policy.

“I look at policy quite frequently. For example, in February, there were about 28 updates to policies that VSBA put out to their members, which we did not get. At this point, we probably have at least 28 policies that have not been updated. They come out on a monthly basis from VSBA. It’s case law as well, anytime a case is decided by one of the courts in our jurisdiction, we have to make changes to policy. I rely on that database to review that staff want to change or any changes that we have to make to be compliant,” Berry said.

Because of the expired contract with VSBA, the policy database is not accessible to Berry.

Pajevic also inquired as to how frequently YCSD policies have been challenged.

“We’ve always used VSBA so our policies have never been challenged. However, VSBA will, in the contract, provide support for us and funding if we are challenged on a policy,” Berry said.

Dr. Victor Shandor, YCSD Superintendent, noted that policies are not just accessed by Berry, but others in the district.

“Our chief officers spend a lot of time with policy. It’s not just the attorney who spends time with policy, it’s also staff,” Shandor said.

Shafer noted that the VSBA represents 124 of 132 school divisions in the state.

Following the discussion, Goodwin amended her motion to use both services.

“I propose that we use both. That way, the members, some of us are members of it, it gives us the chance to try it, write policy and give them a chance to see what they can do. When you think of the budget overall, the amount that it costs for that policy service is really peanuts when you think of the overall budget. That would give confidence to see, measure and time to see if it’s all that we think it is, and then you have the VSBA policy as well for those that are using it and it gives us a year to really look at it and evaluate it,” Goodwin said.

York County School Division ultimately voted 4-1 in favor of the amended motion, with Richardson the only member who voted no. Richardson is currently serving as the Tidewater Regional chair of the Board of Directors for VSBA.

To watch the full meeting, click here. The next York County School Board will be held on April 22 at York Hall, beginning at 7:00 p.m.

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