Joint Retreat: Review of Past and Present Areas of Collaboration
A joint retreat of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and Fairfax County School Board was held at the Junior Achievement Finance Park at Frost Middle School, 4099 Pickett Rd. on Saturday, Feb. 25.
You may also review the notes from each topic session and view related presentations by topic.
A joint presentation by Fairfax County Executive Tony Griffin and Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Dale addressed overall county/school collaboration.
County Executive Tony Griffin: Children are a shared responsibility; they are out in the community more time than they spend in school. We have collaborated in many ways. We have a combined financial reporting system. The new FOCUS system (automated system for financing and purchasing) is coming about because the county and schools legacy systems from years past reached a point in their life where they can’t be supported, they are 25 years old. The county is heavily customized, but then when you get upgrades you then have to customize the upgrades.
So early on, the schools and county made a decision not to customize FOCUS but instead to change the business practices, not the software. The problems we’ve experienced have been an issue of staff learning different business practices; it hasn’t been a problem with the software. We are working our way through and a year from now, when people don’t remember the old system, things will be much better.
Schools Superintendent Jack Dale: We are redesigning business processes now for the human resources component of FOCUS.
County Executive Griffin: We do a lot collaboratively in the finance area. We collaborate on computer learning centers and middle school after-school activities.
Kim Dockery, Assistant Schools Superintendent for Special Services: SACC (school age child care) teachers are used as substitute teachers. SACC teachers become the first people called when a sub is needed, this system works well, filling sub vacancies with people who know the kids and the schools.
County Executive Griffin: We’ve tried to break down silos between agencies over the years. Years ago we provided space in the South County building to register students, a good example of the county and schools working together. County staff at all levels doesn’t need permission to work together with schools; they just do it and often times it is without engagement of the CEX or Superintendent. Staff is empowered to work things out.
Schools Superintendent Dale: Another example was using county transportation resources to move students to home schools. To further this collaboration, I meet monthly with the county executive.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Bulova: The Superintendent /CEX have created a culture of collaboration that has moved down to staff, empowering them to work together across schools/county.
School Board Chairman Strauss: Also, social workers collaborate across county/schools.
Sup. Hudgins: How are we measuring this and how do we find the gaps? How do we plug collaboration into the common problems we have? If we took the families in this county and asked them how they were being served, would they say they are well served on all sides?
County Executive Griffin: If there are gaps in collaboration, the boards should let the Superintendent/CEX know. How can we work better together? At all levels every day, there is collaboration going on.
School Board Member Kaufax: I can’t believe some of the things I’ve worked on were collaborative efforts. Sometimes, these are two big bureaucracies and there’s a vast amount of information and so we don’t know things exist. We are less like silos than we think, we overlap in many ways. We all have a lot to learn.
School Board Member Schultz: Shared goals, different and mutual priorities. But who is looking at areas of collaboration and determining the efficacy of this? The auditor of the Board of Supervisors? Or should the School Board look at this? As we enter into a discussion of the independent audit function, what’s the measurement and have we met goals? We need a bumper sticker version for the public, so the community can easily and readily see the areas of crossover and jump between the two systems.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Bulova: Developing a better way to describe our collaboration would be good, there is already a tremendous amount of collaboration and even our staff isn’t aware of everything.
Sup. McKay: What do we do now that we have this list describing the many areas of collaboration? How do we communicate this information with the public? If the Board of Supervisors doesn’t know, the public certainly doesn’t know. We ought to be touting these successes, over 70 percent of the households in the county don’t have schoolchildren so the message needs to go out about the ways we work together for efficiencies.
The public at large isn’t aware of how much we work together. How do we communicate these successes? What are the gaps? How do we know if the gaps are being met? The most successful thing we have in Fairfax County is the confidence of the community that we are providing good services. This may need more depth than just “bumper sticker” branding.
School Board Member Reed: This is an unbelievable list of collaboration. We need something that flips the list to show audience, need and goal. We need to show efficiencies and effectiveness, what’s working and what should we be doing more of. Community facilities, we need to discuss this more.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Bulova: That will be a discussion this afternoon.
School Board Member Schultz: There should be a Web page that weaves what both boards do, and show the same information on each site. If people saw on our respective websites what we are doing together, it would be good.
School Board Member Evans: I am pleased to see the amount of mental wellness shared services. I do see some pilot programs that I’d love to see if they can be rolled out to all our schools. On wellness programs, can they be rolled out to all schools?
Deputy County Executive for Human Services Pat Harrison: There is a whole level of collaboration on prevention programs that isn’t even listed.
Sup. Foust: One thing I keep coming back to, when looking at budgets, there are so many similarities. Is it necessary for the schools to be doing some things that the county is doing? Are there ways to cut down even more on duplicative services?
Deputy County Executive for Human Services Harrison: On a weekly basis, we look at ways that we can work better together.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Bulova: We need to be holistic about our respective budgets because there is so much we do together and intersection in collaboration.
County Executive Griffin: You may not be aware of a number of items where there is collaboration because they are being done without any request for funding from either board. One area is recreation and parks. Elementary ball fields are not a priority for the School Board but the Board of Supervisors receives complaints that there aren’t enough athletic fields countywide. Field maintenance was a problem, so now the county maintains the school fields to support community use to reduce demand for new fields. Another example: we have a county stormwater program; we have taken over the schools’ MS4 program.
School Board Chairman Strauss: When Schools Superintendent Dale joined the school system, there was a School Board mandate that we had to move past the silos. We’ve just gone through a major turnover on the board, and many of our colleagues who have left cut their teeth in community organizations. So there is a gap now of what has transpired in the past, so today is an opportunity to hear how we work together with the board. Also, both boards will be hiring new leaders when the County Executive and Schools Superintendent retire.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Bulova: We’ve had several waves of efforts to find collaborative opportunities. The silver lining of the recession is a renewed focus on how to work together. Collaborative efforts have happened over the years because of an institutional culture to work together. Sometimes there has been resistance but the barriers have come down to a great degree.
Schools Superintendent Dale: There are joint legislative efforts in Richmond. We speak with one voice.
Sup. Hudgins: I hope we get to the end product which is accomplishment of “birth to graduation” clear outcomes that we work toward as a goal. The individual sheets of goals/priorities from the Board of Supervisors and the School Board should be combined so we can see the continuity and shared goals. We know we have fabulous staffs and we echo it every day to our public, but we also have challenges. We can celebrate accomplishments but can we say we intersected with that child between birth and 12th grade and can we measure results?
School Board Member McLaughlin: There are six new members of the School Board. We weren’t all aware of all the ongoing collaboration, the fact that we didn’t know about all of it means the public probably doesn’t know about it.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Bulova: There is angst out in the community, are we getting the best bang for our bucks? If people saw the list of collaborative efforts, they would be comforted.
School Board Chairman Strauss: We have challenges, and we have to meet them. We need to lay out where we want to go and then we lock arms and move forward together.