School Board member Ilona H. Salmon has criticized a plan by the Prince William School Board to travel 80 miles to conduct a series of meetings on school priorities, saying such sessions should be closer to home and more accessible to the public.
The issue prompted a heated exchange at this week's School Board meeting when Chairman Maureen S. Caddigan (Dumfries), just reelected to her third consecutive term, announced the board will travel to Richmond July 26 and 27 for a state school board meeting. While in Richmond, board members will meet on a variety of issues, which could include setting goals, outlining board procedures and discussing intra-board relations, Caddigan said.
"I do not think it appropriate for the School Board to set goals and priorities in Richmond," said Salmon (Occoquan), often the board's lone dissenter during much of the last two years. Salmon said she refused to go to Richmond.
Caddigan said during Monday's School Board meeting that whatever the board does in Richmond will be open to the public, and that members of the media unable to attend would be supplied with a report written by a School Board member. Caddigan said there are no plans to record all the proceedings.
"We don't have our act together on the agenda," she said after Monday's meeting. "What we do need to do is improve intra-board relationships. One concern of board members is that we need to have a more fruitful year."
Superintendent Edward Kelly said he has no plans to attend, but will go if invited.
Caddigan also said the board would discuss an upcoming survey of the school system to be done by outside consultants who will examine how well the system is organized and how well its curriculum serves students.
"We'll be interviewed for the audit. I think we'd like to have our act together," Caddigan said.
Caddigan and other members who plan to attend the meetings in Richmond described them not as a "retreat," but as a way to maximize time spent on a trip to one of the state school board's monthly meetings. The county School Board has never held annual retreats as some local school boards do.
"There is downtime. Folks socialize, but there is one thing we all have in common and that is our concern for the schools of Prince William County," said board member William H. Hundley (Coles). Without having the meetings, "we'd be wasting valuable time . . . . No extra money is to be spent. We're going to be down there anyway."
July 26 will mark the first time so many of the county's School Board members have attended a state school board meeting.
Caddigan said she does not know if the state board will be discussing matters of particular relevance to Prince William, but "we may be available to testify," she said.
According to James Foudriat, a spokesman for the Department of Education, the agenda for the board's two-day meeting will not be set until next week. He said it is "not usual" for entire local boards to attend meetings of the state school board.
While in Richmond, board members will stay at the Omni Hotel, where the room rate is $109 per person on Thursday night and drops to $69 for Friday night.
For nearly a decade, the Fairfax County School Board has gone on annual retreats each spring outside the county. The three-day affairs are tightly structured, according to schools spokesman Dolores Bohen, and include a "state of the schools" address by the superintendent, as well as performance evaluations on top school officials. Once, according to Bohen, a superintendent was fired at a retreat.
"They don't go down there to reinvent the wheel," said Bohen. "They set goals, do leadership evaluations, and set priorities for the next year."
For a retreat to be effective, Bohen said, it must be scheduled months in advance, include all School Board members, and be carefully planned.
"You have to beware of it being petty," said Bohen.