Three seniors from Woodbridge High School in Prince William County appeared before the county School Board and School Superintendent Richard Johnson last week to plead their case for a new graduation date.
In September the board set June 14 for graduation, a week later than last year's. The three students argued that the later date will come during exam week when teachers are busy and rushed, and since it falls on the last day of school, band and choir members may not feel compelled to show up for the ceremonies.
While board members and the superintendent unanimously praised the presentation, calling it "the best we've ever seen," no commitment was made to change graduation to either June 7 or June 12, the two alternative dates suggested by the students. Said Neabsco board member Regis Lacey, "moving the date back doesn't allow for snow days. That's one of the reasons we changed it in the first place."
Before the start of the regular meeting, 23 students from the county's six high schools met with the board and the superintendent to voice concerns ranging from drug abuse in the schools to teachers, according to a school spokesman. The students had come before the board at the request of Johnson to give their opinions on various issues related to their schools.
Recent news reports about Johnson's new four-year, $68,500 contract approved by the board earlier this month drew fire from several members of the audience, who challenged the board to show that keeping details of the contract secret was not in violation of Virginia's Freedom of Information Act regarding public employes.
According to county attorney John Foote, the salary of any public employe, if it is more than $10,000, must be made public. He added that the law urges that the statute be "read liberally in favor of disclosure."
For the first time in more than five years, the books containing the board's agenda information, which sometimes are more than 100 pages long, were not made available to the public or to leaders of teacher, parent and employe groups, an action that brought criticism from those leaders, who complained about a widening communication gap between the board, its employes and the public. The board decided to print only half of its usual 43 copies as a "cost-saving measure," Board Chairman Gerard Cleary said later, although he said he did not know how much money was being saved.
"This all started out as a courtesy years ago and has gotten out of hand," Cleary said. "We were even delivering some of the board books by courier." Cleary said the board made the decision after discussing the issue with other school districts. In most districts, he said, board books are given only to board members, staff and the media. Agendas will still be distributed.
In a long-awaited move, the board declared three school sites surplus, to be turned over to the Board of Supervisors for disposition. The three sites are 25 acres on Godwin Drive, 15 acres at Tudor Lane and 13 acres at Pattie Elementary School. The city of Manassas has already agreed to pay the county $1.1 million for the Godwin and Tudor sites for use in building a school administration building and some recreational facilities, according to Manassas City Manager Macon Sammons.
The Pattie site, near the Montclair development, may be turned over to the county Park Authority for recreational facilities for the Montclair community. Dumfries board member Maureen Caddigan said she has been assured by the supervisors that they will approve such a move. The supervisors have already agreed to give the School Board the sale proceeds, all interest the $1.1 million accrues, plus another $4 million for use in building a school administration complex at Independent Hill.
In a surprise move, Gainesville board member Mike O'Donnell resigned his post two months before his term was due to expire. Gainesville resident Patricia Cusey, a community activist in the field of education for nine years, was appointed to the post by supervisor Tony Guiffre. O'Donnell said he resigned early to give Cusey an opportunity to "get involved in the 1985-86 school budget as soon as possible." He has offered his assistance to Cusey to make the transition smooth, O'Donnell said. CAPTION: Picture, School Superintendent Richard Johnson was recently awarded new, four-year $68,500 contract. BY VANESSA HILLIAN -- The Washington Post