Why I referred information to the Commonwealth's Attorney's office pertaining to VB Superintendent Aaron Spence
In March of 2019, I referred a matter to the Commonwealth's Attorney's office because I felt there may have been a violation of law. Recently, someone requested a copy of all of my e-mails on this matter and that information is being provided. So, I want to summarize what is in the e-mails and make the public aware.
First, I believe the VA Beach School Board is one of the most ineffective and dysfunctional organizations of which I have ever been involved. The leadership doesn't lead and those of us who try to lead and ask questions are censored.
I strongly felt that laws had been violated when I saw evidence that Dr Spence was being paid by VBCPS to attend ERDI conferences and also accepted payment from ERDI. The law states § 2.2-3103. Prohibited conduct: No officer or employee of a state or local governmental or advisory agency shall: 1. Solicit or accept money or other thing of value for services performed within the scope of his official duties,
ERDI is a controversial organization in which Superintendents are paid to attend their conferences and edtech companies then pay tens of thousands of dollars to also attend these meetings and to meet in small groups with Superintendents. There has been controversy about this organization across the country
When I discovered that Dr Spence had also created a consulting business that was not known about by the school board, it really raised suspicion especially since he is required to have prior approval of the School Board for outside employment. I took an oath to uphold the law and if I felt laws were being broken, it could have been a violation of law for me to NOT report it to the proper authorities. The Commonwealth's Attorney's office determined that there wasn't enough information to open an investigation and they never asked for any additional documents.
On the dais last week, current School Board Chair Ms. Rye stated that there were no contract violations by the Superintendent and she said that is what the auditor determined. Ms. Weems, Ms. Hughes and I (not all 3 together) reviewed the audit document again last week with our auditor. The audit found that Dr Spence did NOT receive prior approval for paid outside activities, which is a contract violation. Dan Edwards stated he was aware that Dr Spence attended ERDI meetings but was not aware of his compensation for the events. The audit also found that Dr Spence was NOT compliant with his employment contract for paid outside activities in which he did not take annual leave but instead was being paid by the taxpayer. So it was completely wrong for Ms Rye to falsely accuse me of lying about the violations of the contract. In fact, because of Ms. Rye's statement, people are publicly stating that the audit cleared Dr Spence of all wrongdoing, which is absolutely false. I have asked Ms. Rye multiple times to correct her statements and she will not. The Board will NOT release the non-redacted audit report.
During the audit investigation Beverly Anderson (former school board chair) attempted to interfere in the investigation by contacting the auditor and demanded a meeting. I use the term “intimidation”. Anderson questioned the auditor about why the investigation was continuing, she wanted it to be finished. Also, during the investigation and before the investigation was completed, Dan Edwards (who is also the chair of the audit committee) discussed with the Superintendent to pay back money that the Superintendent should not have received and to pay back the professional leave time that he used instead of vacation time. Having discussions with the target of an investigation by the auditor while the investigation is still ongoing is absolutely improper. If a teacher was being investigated for wrongdoing, would a Board member contact the teacher to let them know and attempt for the teacher to make restitution before the completion of the investigation? I was removed from the audit committee shortly after the investigation, yet Anderson and Edwards continued in their positions.
I still do not understand why the Commonwealth's Attorney's office would not open an investigation into this matter, but I must accept their decision. However, it is also important to me to not allow Board members to publicly accuse me of lying as Ms Rye did last week. Watch this video at the 1 hr 8 minute mark: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dT-WMST4n6I&feature=youtu.be
A special meeting took place yesterday for the School Board and public to receive the proposed budget recommendations. Here are few items that in the SEON:
1. A proposed 6.5% employee raise over 2 years (Governor proposed 3% but will not be funded by the state until the 2nd year.)
2. State is requiring a 1% increase in employer contributions toward VRS retirements which will cost the division $4.5 million.
3. Reversion funds (one time money-$4 million) will be used to pay for full day kindergarten.
4. Additional teachers for the ESL program-- There has been a 40% increase of non-english speaking students in Virginia Beach in 2 years.
5. A state mandate to eliminate waivers for class size at the Elementary level will require 38 new teaching positions ($2.9 million).
6. Student enrollment is down by 2,312 in the last 5 years and is predicted to continue to decline. (see chart)
The total SEON net budget of all funds for this year is $942,072,738.00 . This is an increase of $35,452,260.00 from last year.
I have been asked several times for a copy of the Audit Report into the Investigation of the Superintendent's outside business dealings. I would like to provide a copy of the non redacted version but I have been told by the Board it cannot be released and I have also not been allowed to keep a copy. Here is a copy of the redacted report that was previously released to the media. Note, the School Board auditor is limited in her ability to investigate since she does not have subpoena power.
The School Board took no action against the Superintendent. The open document does state that he had outside employment with ERDI. His employment contract which is a public document, states that he must have prior approval from the School Board to have outside employment. I was never asked, consulted, nor voted on the topic of the Superintendent having outside employment prior to the fall of 2018.
I finally received a little more info regarding the lead in the water issue-- see documents below. I still have unanswered questions, such as
1) Why wasn't the public and School Board notified immediately of the lead in the water rather than over a month later?
2) Was it a strategy to notify the Board and Public the day AFTER the elections?
3) Who knew about the lead in the water and took no action to secure the tainted sources and are they still employed?
4) When will results be received from the additional schools tested?
My colleague Laura Hughes made a request at the Board meeting last night to have the topic of the lead in the water to be added as an agenda item at the next meeting so we can discuss the topic publicly. However, it doesn't appear that request will be granted.
The School Board by-laws do permit the public to request to have it added to the agenda for discussion: Send an e-mail to the Board Chair at : email@example.com & firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Patrons of the School Division who desire to suggest items to be included on the agenda of a particular meeting shall submit in writing such request to the Chairman in care of the Office of the Superintendent at least fifteen (15) working days prior to the day of the meeting."
The Freedom Of Information Act dictates that the School Board can only go into closed meetings for specific purposes and at the end of the meeting, the Board must certify whether or not the topics discussed were for only the stated purposes of going into the closed meeting. (Code 2.2-3712 D)
On Aug 13th, the Board went into a closed meeting for the purpose of a "grievance hearing" for the Superintendent. Va Code 22.1-79 does not allow for this. The reason for the "grievance" was because the Superintendent wasn't pleased with the performance review given to him by Ms. Hughes (even though he still received 100% of his $11,000 bonus). The other reason was because he wasn't pleased with comments made on my social media page (by the way, the School Board attorney has told us that we cannot censor public comments). Rather than calling me and sharing his concerns with me, the Superintendent decided to file a grievance with the Board for a "hostile work environment" that led to these violations of law by the Board.
Additionally, the law states that the Board cannot go into closed session to discipline a fellow Board member. During this closed meeting I was accused of defamation, lying and nefarious actions. The Board chair even had a 2 page resolution drafted by the School Board attorney condemning me and Ms. Hughes. I did not defame, lie or have nefarious actions and I will not sit idly by and have my character assassinated by my colleagues.
At the end of that closed meeting, Ms Hughes, Ms Weems and I voted to not certify the meeting and stated numerous times that conversations were in violation of the law. However, the rest of the Board did vote to certify the meeting.
Our purpose for hiring attorney Kevin Martingayle was to try to get the Board to acknowledge their mistake and to try to prevent future violations of FOIA. Unfortunately at the last meeting, most Board members still state they did nothing wrong. However, they did decide to vote (8-2) to approve this statement: “To the extent that FOIA was violated, the School Board members will not do it again.” (The Board Chair Anderson still won't admit wrongdoing and voted against this statement even though in my opinion she was the biggest offender of the Freedom of Information Act).
The School Board attorney even stated in last week's meeting that it was not in the Board's best interest to go to court and that the Board was "likely to get slapped by the court" if it was taken to court.
At this time, we do not plan to move forward with a suit against the Board but will expect that our colleagues take the law seriously and stop holding conversations behind closed doors in violation of FOIA.
Last night the Board approved a new survey to be sent out to the community with a clear option of choosing the proposed times or no change. My colleague Ms. Weems also asked that the Board be able to review the survey before it is sent out. So, most likely the vote on the start time topic will not occur at the next meeting.
Thank you to all (on both sides of the issue) who have taken the time to provide input.
One speaker last night mentioned the term "community disruption" regarding the potential negative aspects of the change (known or unknown).
As a Board member I need to weigh the benefits of a later start time with the consequences of the "community disruption".
I do have great concerns of how the proposed times could impact the greater community, especially HS students who need to work or babysit younger siblings in order for their families to be able to function. I also have concerns with the fact that students will still be getting up early for morning sports and clubs which will defeat the purpose of later start times for adolescents.
In the Spring of 2017 VBCPS conducted a survey that asked if respondents favored a later school start time for adolescents. The initial survey indicated that the community supported this idea.
After much research and planning, staff provided the Board with their final recommendations on Tuesday:
Elementary A schools: 7:30 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Elementary B schools: 8:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Middle schools: 8:40 a.m. – 3:10 p.m.
High schools: 9:20 a.m. – 4:10 p.m.
Additional one time costs of $2.5 million (for field lighting) plus 80 more hours of bus driver time per day (approx $325,000/year).
My colleague Laura Hughes and I have asked for the Superintendent and Board to conduct a final survey now that all costs and final times are known. I do not know if that request will be approved.
I do have a high schooler, so I understand first hand the impacts of this decision. I also understand the benefits of later start times for adolescents.
It is imperative for me to know what the community wants. So, I hope that the Board will agree to a final survey on the topic with all of the information asking the public if they are in favor of making a change or keeping the times the same.
The group e-mail for the board if you wish to provide input directly is: email@example.com
I, along with my colleagues Laura Hughes and Carolyn Weems, have hired Attorney Kevin Martingayle to represent us in a dispute against the School Board. Since the School Board Attorney has given a copy of our complaint to the media, I would like to respond.
On August 13th, the School Board went into a closed meeting for a "grievance hearing". The grievant was Superintendent Aaron Spence . Hughes, Manning and Weems voted against going into closed session and voted against certifying closed session. According to Code of Virginia 15.2-1507(A)(3)(a)(1), the law states "Unless otherwise provided by law, all nonprobationary local government permanent full-time and part-time employees are eligible to file grievances with the following exceptions: (1) Appointees of elected groups or individuals". Dr Spence is an appointee of the elected school board.
We believe it was a violation of the Freedom of Information Act for this hearing to take place. We also believe that other discussions that took place in the closed meeting were a violation of the law.
Our letter that was provided to the media, states that the hearing was related to the Superintendent's accusation of "abusive conduct" and a "hostile work environment". The "conduct" referenced is related to my transparency on social media and posts made by other members of the public on my page. I completely reject the notion that I have participated in any inappropriate conduct or hostile work environment.
My platform when running for office in 2016 was focused on transparency and I do my best to communicate with the public. I expose the truth even if it goes against the "division narrative". I will fight back against any retaliation against me for my transparency. I am employed by and report to the citizens of Virginia Beach.
It is our goal to ensure that the School Board is operating within the parameters of the law and that the public is kept fully informed. We hope that the School Board will comply with the law regarding the requests of our dispute letter and that we do not have to seek resolution in court.
Spence states in his letter to the Pilot “I did not allege abusive conduct on the part of any Board member." Yet in the same letter he states, "One Board member has created a public forum in which I am regularly demeaned."