2016 March School Board Meeting

My prepared remarks for the March 25 School Board Meeting were these notes, scribbled on a 5×7 notecard:

Basically, Yorktown Elementary School doesn’t meet state standards now in usable lot size, playgrounds, and parking, and it will get worse; The county cut the equivalent of 80% of the new school out of the CIP, and I want to know how it will affect the schools; The new school was already delayed, already cost us in money and resources, will it be ready in FY2020?

YES does not appear to meet the state standards in at least these areas:

  • Usable area — State standards (pp. 5,8.) call for 4 acres + 1 acre per 100 students.  The lot is 14.09 acres, (per http://maps.yorkcounty.gov/York/ parcel P09d-4077-2374, see map) and its sides measure  500, 1274, 491.59, 1241.72′.  Since it has RC zoning, the usable area is the portion within the 50′ building lines, so a generous estimate would be (500-100)*(1274-100)/43560=10.78 acres, or enough for 678 students. That’s 35 less than the October enrollment.  Also, the fields are shared with the county, so even more of the area is unusable for building such things as the two re-purposed hard-surface playgrounds.
  • Hard Surface Playgrounds — Per the state standards, an elementary school should have 120×100′ hard surface play areas.  One area for 400 and less, and two for more than 400.  YES had two, but there are trailers parked on one, and there is a 60×82′ modular building slated for a big part of the other.
  • Parking — There should be 10-20% more than the parking required by the normal operations.  At 106 spaces, YES is lacking, so the no-parking signs seem to have been taken down, and people are parking in the ditch and on the bike lane.

From the budget documents, the only thing that the county cut appears to be the school’s CIP. The county cut the FY2017 CIP from 16M to 9M, and cut the FY2017-FY2022 by 21.3M.  These cuts are about 80% of the 26.5M that the new school is expected to cost.   It is a big cut and it looks like it deferred kitchen equipment upgrades, and fiber optic upgrades. (See crosswalk.)

The planning for the new school has already been delayed, and the delay already cost us $1,350,000 in trailers and a couple playgrounds.  Will the new school be finished on time?  Three years is only FY2020.

I’m looking forward to watching the video (from here?) and seeing what I actually said.

After the county supervisor meeting, the school board meeting, and what I’ve learned in communication with several administrators, I think the YCSD budget and CIP seem like perfectly reasonable tools for communicating priorities of the school district. If not, what alternative would be better?  Organizing 20+ buildings/19 schools worth of maintenance would make a big list–For instance, if you depreciated the 20+ buildings over 40 years, over the long term, you would have to do about 1/2 a building worth of maintenance each year just to keep up with the depreciation.  If you deferred some maintenance during the past recession, you’d have to catch back up in the following years.   The costs of maintaining 19 schools are relatively predictable, and are being predicted in the YCSD CIPs.

The YCSD CIP has been used for years for communicating an ordered list of maintenance projects, and I’m not sure what alternatives could be better.  I do think that the county CIP is a bit more informative, with a half-page or so of text detailing each and every line item, while the YCSD CIP only adds a paragraph of explanatory text on the changes to its line items.  Looking at the YCSD CIP documents, one would need to follow the line items backwards over several CIPS to find where the line item first makes an appearance, and then use its accompanying text.  For example “Kitchen Equipment – 5 schools” from page 5 of the FY2017 proposed CIP, is documented in the FY2012 CIP as “BMES, DES, SES, YES, & WMES  — Kitchen equipment–Movement of kitchen equipment replacement in FY16 forward and spreading it over a period of three years due to equipment deterioration.”  From the outside, this makes it difficult to drill down and see what specific line items mean, but again, this has been the practice for years. The YCSD can explain the line items individually and personally, but it takes some time and effort to work out just what a YCSD CIP line item really is.

I spoke with Dr. James and Mr. Tshirhart after the meeting and they gave me three additional documents, one highlighting the current capacities and grade-by-grade enrollment across the schools, another adding detail about the ages and conditions of the roofs and HVAC systems at the various schools, and one detailing the kitchen equipment upgrades at YES.  I’m confident that YCSD and the county have reasonable plans with reasonable supporting information for all of the items in their CIPS, but from the public information, it is very hard to drill down and understand what the items are, what hard choices are being made, and what these decisions will cost us in the future.  The cuts this year were big and will have real costs.

One clear, sad cost of past decisions is that it appears that for the next three years, temporary modular buildings will be parked on the two YES playgrounds–YES will have no standards-compliant 100×120′ hard surface playgrounds for the next three years.

What to do about it?

Past funding decisions have increased costs and caused increased shortcomings.  Past decisions to delay maintenance and school construction have increased costs and caused increased shortcomings.  At the short-term school-board level, one option for FY2017 appears to be to do significant rezoning, trading off some of the county-level standards about attendance zones for better compliance with the state standards.  Paving some of the shared county field space in “Big Green” would cost some money, but might be necessary to provide sufficient hard-surface playgrounds at YES.  At the current level of support, it does not appear possible to be able to meet both the state and the county standards at YES.

The Board shall operate the number of schools necessary to deliver the approved program of instruction to enrolled students. The requisite number of schools is a function both of total enrollment in the Division and of the geographic distribution of enrolled students. Total enrollment is an independent variable in the planning process. However, attendance patterns shall, to the maximum extent possible,
maintain an identifiable neighborhood in a single elementary school. Also, attendance patterns will, to the maximum extent possible, maintain discreet geographic areas of the County in the same secondary school attendance zone. Alternatively, the Board may direct the Division Superintendent to submit a recommendation regarding changes to the attendance zones, along with a description of feedback received through one or more public forums regarding possible changes to the attendance zones. The Board shall conduct a public hearing on the recommendation before approving any material change to attendance zone boundaries. — YCSD Policy Sec. FB
At the short term county level, it sounds like the budget is a done deal for FY2017.  From my view of the process, the funding based on recession-level spending gives me little confidence that the county is committed to supporting its 19 (or 20) schools.
Longer term, York County should support its schools to comply with state standards, its own policies, and also provide sufficient funding to offset depreciation, maintenance, or decay on its many schools and buildings.
If I’ve made any mistakes in all of this, I’d really appreciate some feedback.

Remarks for YC Budget Hearing, 2016 April 21

For the 2016 April 21 board of supervisor’s meeting, I prepared these remarks:

My kids go to Yorktown Elementary School, and I became interested in this budget while watching what was happening there.   The past planning decisions deferred the new  school from being finished by now, requiring:

  • the extra expense of 1.35M in leased trailers;
  • booting the magnet resource teachers out of their classrooms;
  • causing overcrowding at YES relative to the state standards for “usable area” (pp. 5, 8), parking (p.8), and hard-surface play areas (p.6) …
  • causing a need for current and future rezoning.
  • This planning also eliminated a couple county shared tennis courts and I think it might threaten a shared basketball court that the county proposed CIP plans on resurfacing. (YC CIP, p. 10-11)

I asked my daughter if there was anything she wanted me to say tonight, and she said she didn’t like the overcrowding.  She was also upset that of the two state-required playgrounds, one has trailers parked on it and the other is used for walk-and-talk.

I do not pretend that I understand the budget process, but the result of past level of planning is clear to see at YES– the process has underestimated and underfunded our needs, resulting in increased costs.

The county appears to be happy with the current budget plan with no tax increase, and its level of debt,  debt service, and the level of capital improvements and maintenance.  And the past boards have been happy with their budgets.

By planning the budget to fit a financial model of expected revenues, the numbers balance and adds up to the financial model. There’s almost nothing in the budget for a citizen to advocate for York County at the state or federal level.

However, I found two exceptions: $7.1M/year in “Unmet Challenges” shown on slide 56 of the March 1 Revenue Outlook presentation, and $21.3M in deferred maintenance at the School Division in the County’s published CIP on page 41.

Looking in the YC March 1 Revenue Outlook presentation  the budget balances this year (ROP slide 53)  But long term, the plan:

  • leaves 7.1M/year in “unmet challenges” (ROP slide 56),
  • adds an 8% increase in debt service for FY2017, (ROP slide 52),
  • makes a 4.8M/year increase in debt service by 2022, (ROP slide 52),
  • and reduces the “Unobligated fund balance” by 8M , (YC CIP p. 39)
  • funds only 56% of the FY2017 YCSD CIP, (and defers 21.3M out past 2022) YC CIP p41

Looking at the other shortfall in the County FY2017 CIP, (page 41), the line item for “Adjustment based on County’s fiscally constrained funding plan” cuts 21.33M$ over the next 6 years.   This plan trims the School’s CIP 2017 funds 44% from 16M to 9M, and over the first three years of new elementary school construction it cuts 26M out and then adds back only 7.5M.  This is not a mew re-scheduling of the schedule for the new school.  Future years trim out more, making it appear that the new school is essentially funded 80% (=21.33/26.5M) by deferring maintenance on the other nineteen schools.

This new elementary school is not a surprise–I think Dr. James said it has been in the  plans since 2009, marching forward into the future, along with the rest of the 20-year roofs, HVAC systems and other CIP line items at the other 19 schools.  What is a surprise and a hardship is cutting nearly a schools worth of maintenance out of the CIP to pay for the new school.  The county’s 7M cut to the FY2017 YCSD CIP,  defers the hard decisions onto the School Division. For example $350,000 in updates to obsolescent kitchen equipment at 5 schools.  At 313 meals/day, YES has the most Free or Reduced meals per day of all the 19 schools in the York County School Division.  Deferring maintenance of equipment in that kitchen could risk large number of kids at risk of missing meals.

The past planning process put Yorktown Elementary School in the state it is, and the current planning looks like it more underestimation of future needs and costs, resulting in more debt, more debt service, less unobligated funds, less school maintenance, and more risk.

Why aren’t we planning to do better this time?

I spoke at about 1:00:03 into the video here but it seems the audio for the entire video is nearly  unintelligible.  I didn’t have time to time myself beforehand, and it turned out more than would fit in 3 minutes.

The points that I was unable to make are:

  • The new school funding isn’t just being rescheduled, its budget is being cut by $26M and then restored by only 7.5M.
  • That the current planning looks like the same planning that overcrowded YES–we’re planning for more of the same.

After listening to Thomas Shepperd discuss community values with the other supervisors, I realized that this budget communicates the values of the county, and that the schools are clearly on the bottom of the priorities.

Update 4/23:

At the meeting, Neil Morgan showed exactly where the schools are in the list of the county priorities on slide 4 of his presentation:

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 3.47.32 PM

There is an article in the WY Daily on 2016-04-22 about the meeting.

York County Budgeting Resources FY2017

There are two main pieces to the York County budget: The County side and the School Division side, and they are both split into two parts: operations and a Capital Improvements.

Good starting points are:

I looked at these to find out how York County is spending money and making decisions.

Yorktown Elementary Modular Building

Yorktown Elementary currently has three trailers and is planning on adding a 4-room/100 student, 60×82.5′ modular building to the site. Principal Kelly Denny shared a letter describing a community meeting presented by the YCSD discussing this change, and rezoning a not-yet-built development.  The YCSD March 2016 notes  mention this meeting.  From the descriptions, I made a rough Google Earth mash-up of the site:

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 10.10.32 PM

The HeadStart trailer will be moved over behind the tennis courts, and the modular building will be put on the blacktop by the basketball court in the upper right.

The lease of this modular building at YES, and another at Macgruder Elementary is expected to cost $1,000,000 in FY2017, $200,000 in FY2018, and $150,000 in FY2019 (per School Board CIP 2017 p.6.) and they should be temporary until a new elementary school comes on line.

The new floorplan for the modular building is:YES_Modular_20160425_80x82p5(click image for pdf)

The modular units were from Tidewater Community College in Chesapeake, and used to be part of the  CT-1 building.  It was removed from the TCC-Chesapeake campus in May 2015, per The TCC Provost’s Twitter:

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 2.51.44 AM

Modular building CT-1 was behind the George Pass building and held Financial Aid, Student Counseling, and Veteran’s Affairs offices (See this directory.)  The 2009 original design had different uses: modularunit

Dr. James’ ‘crosswalk’ details some differences between the scheduling of future projects in Yorktown, VA. At YES, the county is pushing replacement of kitchen equipment at 5 schools (including YES) from 2017 to 2022, paving and expansion of the bus loop from 2020 to 2022. Other things, like modernizing the ethernet, and upgrading the access control system is pushed off the calendar into FY23, FY24, and FY26. If paving will not happen until 2022, the additional parking needed by the expected increase in students will remain the muddy ditch along Siege Rd.


York County Unmet Challenges

One surprising issue in the York County FY2017 budget is that it projects a continuing shortfall of 7.1M$/year for the foreseeable future.   Several of the documents highlight the “no tax increase” part of the budget, (YC March 15 presentation, WY Daily article,)  but to avoid a tax increase, especially in the following years, there are some consequences.

Looking in the  York County May 1 Presentation it really looks like the plan over the foreseeable future is to borrow about 7M/year worth of “Unmet Challenges” (see slide 56) and increase the debt service from each year by an average of 1.2M per year, increasing from 9.5M/year in FY2017 to 13.8M/year in FY2021. (see slide 52)

The budget balances this year (slide 53) (by adding debt? by deferring school maintenance?), but the annual 7.1M  “Unmet Challenges” slide, increase the unfunded debt service significantly across FY2018-2021 (see slide 53).   Since the debt service in FY2017 goes up $0.701M from FY2016 (see slide 52), it looks like some additional debt is being added this year, but it is unclear how much.

As an aside, there is a $26.5M new elementary school planned in the near future, but it is far less than the projected  7.1M times 6 years equals $42M of unmet challenges, and it seems like much of that school is planned on being paid for my $21.3M worth of deferred maintenance at the other schools.

In FY2022, the year after this budget ends, an additional year of 7.1M worth of unmet needs, could balloon the debt service expense up to maybe 9.75M/year.

If we are to trust these projections, the plan seems to be to put us in an increasingly big hole for the foreseeable future.

What does the +7.1M$ annual “unmet challenges” for FY17-FY22 mean for York County?

York County FY2017 Shortfalls

The only shortfalls or hard choices shown in the York County FY2017 budget are in the York County Capital Improvements Plan (CIP) on pages 40 and 41, where the county lists 16 FY 2017 School CIP projects totaling $15,805,000 followed by a negative $6,805,000 line item for “Adjustment based on County’s fiscally constrained funding plan.”  One interesting thing about this budget, is that it highlights the schools as the only area of unmet needs in the county this year.   If you want to advocate for increased support from the state or federal government, there is a hole of $6.8M this year that the county isn’t funding.

From discussions with county folks, it appears the county side does not care which of the 16 school CIP items are cut, leaving the decisions about where to cut $6.8M to the judgement of the school board.

Among the 16 line-items (pp 40-41) on the chopping block for FY2017 are:

  • 4.050M for Tabb Elementary HVAC replacement
  • 3.5M for site and architecture for a new elementary school
  • 2M for roof replacement at the Grafton complex
  • 1.2M for roof replacement at Coventry Elementary

Those four items add up to $10.75M already, leaving no money for things like the $350,000 item for updating kitchen equipment at 5 schools.

I think Yorktown Elementary is one of the schools that was slated for updating the kitchen equipment, and one implication of cutting the FY2017 CIP from 15.8M to 9M might be  forcing YES to use obsolescent kitchen equipment to produce meals at the York County school with the largest number of Free and Reduced Lunches (313 F/R eligible per VA DOE nutrition statistics )

Yorktown Elementary School is already stressed beyond some state standards, (I looked at a couple here, such as the “usable area” versus the enrollment of 713, parking, and hard-surface play areas) and is projected to become stressed further while waiting for the new school. Making do with old kitchen equipment seems unfair to the existing and future students.

Long term, the new school is a big item, at $26.5M, and spreading it across several years as it is built does make sense, but looking at p. 41 of the County’s CIP,this isn’t just a shift, it is a big cut:

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 11.49.59 AM

The text might be small, but adding up the “adjustments based on county’s fiscally constrained funding plan” shows a cut totaling $21.33M. A WY Daily article mentions this.  In FY2018, $19M comes out, and in FY2019, only $7.5M is shifted back in.  On the County side, the county’s CIP is fully funded out through  FY2022, per page 39.

Deferring $21.33M out of the school CIP for maintenance on the other 19 schools over the next 6 years to cover 80% of the cost of the new school seems like robbing Peter to pay Paul.

The York County supervisors aren’t making the hard decisions about which of $6,805,000 worth of school maintenance items to cut, they are putting that responsibility on the school division.

The rest of the school’s proposed CIP  is shown on Page 40 of the County’s CIP:

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 12.33.35 PM

Yorktown Elementary Cafeteria Addition

Yorktown Elementary School is increasing the size of the cafeteria by one third during the summer of 2017.

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 9.35.15 AM

In the graphic, the kitchen is on the far right, and the cafeteria is to the left of the kitchen, and the 1/3 addition is the yellow portion.  From Google Earth, the existing cafeteria roof measures 80x47ft, but this roof also covers the school stage.  Counting the 2×2 acoustic tiles from inside the cafeteria gives a 61×48=2928sqft area.  A one-third bigger expansion will bring it to 3904swft and will move the front wall about 20 feet towards the driveway in the front of the school.  One item discussed at the March 21 school board meeting and the  community meeting was that although this expansion was scheduled to be finished during the summer of 2016,  the timing of  committing funds missed the window for the designing and completion of building during this summer.

This expansion is intended to increase the cafeteria capacity to help cover the  2009 brick-and-mortar expansion of 10 additional classrooms to the core capacity of YES, which expanded the school from about 20 classrooms to 30.  At 25 kids/class, the “Original Program Capacity” was about 20 x 25 = 500 students.  In 2009, the new addition added 10 x 25 = 250, or 50% to bring the core classroom capacity to near 750.  The cafeteria addition is not sized to cover the 6-room temporary capacity provided by the trailers on the left, nor the 4-room planned modular building in the rear.

If the original cafeteria was sized for an “Original Program Capacity” of 500, then  a 1/3 increase would bring its capacity to 667 students.

To increase the capacity by 250 students over the original, the YES cafeteria should require a 50% increase, if the cafeteria was adequate to begin with.

The current cafeteria is about 61×48=2928sqft, and at the current state standards, it sized for about 292-366 students per seating.   Expanded to 1/3 bigger will be about 3904 sqft, or sized for about 390-488 students per seatingCompared to the standard, the October 2015 enrollment of 713 has about 3.9 sqft/student, well short of the state guidelines of 8-10 sqft.  If the new enrollments from the expected development bring the school to the expanded 834 students, the post-addition area of 3904 sqft will provide about 4.7 sqft per student.

To also accommodate the 6 temporary classrooms in the trailers, plus the 4 classrooms in the new (2017) modular unit, the (6+4) x 25 = 250 should require an additional 50% increase to the cafeteria.

Looking at state standards  (see page 22), a cafeteria designed for K-5 students should provide 8-14 ft^2/student, with the low range at 8-10 using high-density rectangular tables with attached chairs, which is what YES uses.  At 500 students, that standard would have required 4000-5000 sqft to provide 8-10 sqft per student, so it was insufficient as-built.   At 734 capacity, we need 5872-7340 sqft, so it is even less adequate. After adding the 100-student modular building, this produces a 834 student capacity, and would require 6672-8340 sqft total area, or an expansion of 127-185%, or 78-112 feet, instead of the planned 20 foot expansion.  An addition of 78 feet would bring the front wall of the cafeteria out to the curb of the bus loop.  YES is planning to supply sub-standard cafeteria space.

Since in 2016, we currently have less than half of the recommended cafeteria area. To adapt to the current overcrowding, YES has stretched out the lunch scheduling across the school day, and has implemented a silent lunch scheme to reduce the noise.  After the addition and the expected new students, the area per student will not be much more–3.9 vs. 4.7 sqft/student is 20% more space–but still sub-standard, with 58% of the minimum area.

If a 5th grader met less than 60% of the standard, they would earn an ‘F’.   York county’s plan for this addition to be less than 60% of the expected need should be graded at least as hard.  With this plan, it appears that York County isn’t aiming to provide the tools for success for students at Yorktown Elementary School.

I hope that I am mistaken in my understanding and conclusions in these back-of-the-envelope calculations, but I do not currently see how.

Update 2016-04-13:

The state standards for cafeterias apply a per-seating factor adjustment, with an estimate of of 2.5 seatings per day for the continuous phased system YES currently uses.  With this factor, the existing size of 2928sqft can accommodate a school enrollment of 732-915 students at 8-10ft^2/student, and the expanded size of 3900ft^2 would accommodate 975-1218 students.

I’m a bit chagrined that I missed the seating factor, but I’m also surprised that none of the people I have shared this with recognized the problem.

Still, there are areas which do not appear to meet the state guidelines for the October enrollment of 713–Multi-use hard surface play areas (p.22),  fenced PK-1 play area (p. 2),  usable size within building lines (p. 5),   etc….    The standards have example requirements for elementary schools in Appendix B, and a “Capacity Worksheet” for an elementary school in Appendix F.   I wonder if anyone has filled out the worksheets for the county schools to see how they measure up?