Supervisors Case Clinger (left) and Bill Gardner at the board's budget session

An escalating war between supervisors and the school board

Supervisors Case Clinger (left) and Bill Gardner at the board's budget session

The escalating war between Floyd County Supervisors and the School Board took another turn Wednesday night when the county’s governing body voted 3-1 to shift $125,000 from the school system’s administrative budget and spread it across over budget categories along with the recommendation to use the shifted money to give teachers and other school system employees a 1 percent raise.

“I know this isn’t much but it’s better than nothing,” said Little River Supervisor Virgel Allen, who offered the motion to move the money. “It shows the school employees that we do have a heart and compassion for them.”

School superintendent Terry W. Arbogast — whose ever-changing accounts of his actual salary have changed several times in recent weeks — said his crew is ready to go to war over the increasing tensions between the school system and supervisors and says too many “lies” have been told.

Arbogast is right about one thing: Too much misinformation has been passed on to the public over what he is paid and exactly what it costs to administer the school system that eats up more than two-thirds of the county’s $29 million annual budget.

Sadly, much of that misinformation has come from the superintendent himself and the school board. Both has been less than transparent about what the school system chief is paid and where the money comes from.

For several years, the school board submitted a budget to the county that lists the superintendent’s salary as $98,000 a year when the actual direct compensation was $118,000.  However, when you add in annuities and a generous car allowance, the superintendent’s checks from the county treasurer actually add up to a little over $168,000 a year.

To make matters worse, Arbogast and school board chairman Doug Phillips tell differing stories about just how and why the school board gave the superintendent several raises that has almost doubled his salary and benefits since 1995.

Phillips told me and Roanoke Times reporter Katelyn Polantz that the board informally approved — without a contract or public record — a series of raises based on job offers Arbogast received from other school system or when he discussed leaving his job. Arbogast says he only had one other job consideration — and withdrew from that one.

At the very least, both the board and superintendent have been vague about the actual amounts paid to the school system boss.  It’s a lack of transparency that even led long-time school system supporter and Indian Valley Supervisor Fred Gerald to vote for moving the funds out of administration for use for pay raises.  The supervisors’ action, Gerald says, “sends a message” to the school board that “more transparency is needed.”

When supervisors voted two weeks ago to reduce the school board’s funding back to current year levels, the school board’s action — based on Arbogast’s recommendations — was to vote to eliminate teacher positions and freeze teacher and other school employee salaries — which have been frozen for the past three years and have remained stagnant in years when the school board approved generous raises for the school superintendent.

The board’s intent was clear:  Generate teacher and public anger against the board of supervisors. That plan may have backfired because the supervisors found a way Wednesday night to move funds and give raises to school employees.

While the supervisors now have category by category control over the school board budget, they can only recommend to the school’s governing body. The school board must accept the budget changes but they don’t have to use the 125 grand for raises. They can spend it on other things.

However, the supervisors have called the school system’s bluff and put them in a box. If they don’t accept the recommendation to use the funds for a one percent raise they will have to take the heat themselves — something that could have been easily avoided if they had just been open and honest with the public and the board of supervisors for the past several years.

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16 thoughts on “An escalating war between supervisors and the school board”

  1. I guess it is way past the point of them being willing to work together instead of trying out maneuver each other. Ideally both boards, the county administrator and the school administrator would be able to sit down and work these things out.

    • Lauren,its never to late to sit down and talk.Both Boards can take a deep breath and work thru this situation.Both must work together for the benefit of the county as a whole.The bridge of trust is reparable.It will take effort and time from both sides.

      • Well I certainly hope they will learn to work together. There are some good people whose jobs are now in jeopardy. These issues are complicated and need to be addressed in a calm manner while working together.

  2. I don’t think Lauren knows the history of the relationship between the school board and the board of supervisors they have had in the past 14 years I have been on the board of supervisors. It has been very good and we have been able to sit down and work things out many times in the past until this year when the trust they have had between the boards for those years has been violated and the school board is to blame. However, the reason things have gotten out of hand is because of the negative articles of the Roanoke Times and the Floyd Press concerning Dr. Arbogast’s salary. He was hired by the school board (Elected Board) and THEY determined what raises and benefits he was entitled to. They control the money, the only problem was they needed to let the taxpayers know about any raises or benefits, again TRANSPARENCY! Dr. Arbogast is an outstanding, well qualified superintendent with 40 years experience in school systems that has done much for Floyd County Schools and does not deserve the abuse he has been subjected to. A front page article in the Roanoke Times this morning the superintendent says, “If anybody asked us one question, it could have been explained.” Every every question I asked Dr. Arbogast he answered satisfactorily. He also said in the same article he is going to war to defend his reputation. I say go for it Dr. Arbogast, Enough is Enough!

    Fred Gerald
    Indian Valley Supervisor

    • Fred, I’m sorry but I don’t think blaming the media is the answer. You are correct that transparency is the issue but transparency is not achieved by waiting for someone to ask the right question. The people are best served when elected officials — be they members of a school board or a board of supervisors — provide detailed information to the people they serve openly and without having to be prodded.

      When the school board decided to approve raises informally and without a public record they — in my opinion — violated their obligation to the public they serve. When a school superintendent keeps his salary line item lower than an actual amount in order to avoid criticism from teachers who did not get a raise — which is what Terry Arbogast admitted doing — that is a failure in transparency to the public. Waiting for someone to ask the right question is an old trick that I have seen used far too often in nearly 50 years of covering public officials as a newspaperman. It’s evasive and a disservice to the public.

      What Katelyn Polantz of The Roanoke Times did — and she did a better job of it than I did — was expose a culture of secrecy within the school board that should not exist. That culture must end and ending it is the only way that the school system and its superintendent can restore their reputations. Declaring war is not the answer. Openness with the public is.

    • I understand there have been a lot of problems lately and that things have happened that are unacceptable. However my concern is that the employees in administration will be paying the price for something they were not involved in and actually were not aware of. Folks that have done a good job for this county every day for many years. I would really like to talk with you personally about this because it is troubling me a great deal. Any way we can work that out?

    • I applaud and agree with Mr. Gerald’s sentiments. But I’m puzzled that he too voted to strip $125k from the admin line. Perhaps he didn’t realize that would result in more job losses from the administrators that attempt to keep the district running smoothly, especially with all the negative publicity that has been swirling around in recent months. I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been for them to keep focused on the task at hand, and now are worrying about their very jobs.

    • Why is no one talking about the board of supervisors role in this? The BOS approved all of the budgets submitted by the school board during this entire time period. The BOS is supposed to be providing oversight. Instead, they didn’t bother to take the time to actually look at the school system’s budgets. How can the BOS justify not carefully looking at two thirds of our county’s budget? They can’t. The BOS did not do their job and deserve at least as much of the blame for this issue as anyone else. If the BOS were providing adequate oversight, they would have recognized what the raises and benefits were in 2008 (or 2009, or 2010).

      • The elected School Board has many duties and responsiblities.In my opinion two of the most important are to provide the best possible educational opportunuties, within the funds given to them, for our children and approve then oversee how the school budget is administered.In years past the BOS choices were to approve the amount requested or not.Discussions about the budget took place when presented and thru out the year.This year the BOS took the next step under state law and now are approving the school budget by category.More oversite,maybe.Right thing to do, could be.One problem.The BOS cannot approve line item amounts.This is still the School Boards responsiblity.The BOS moved 125,000 from administration to instruction,they could only request it be used for teacher salary increases.In years past,other than the superintendent,all employees received the same percentage increase.With whats happened now,what about the employees not in the instruction category?Do they get nothing?The School Board can decide to follow the request or use the 125,000 to save jobs in the instruction area of the budget.What then?What about the administration part of the budget?The BOS approves money,not what line its used in.That is the School Boards responsiblity.The BOS is still limited by state law when it comes to oversite.One final question must be asked.What about citizen oversite?Most times citizens show up to fuss about taxes or after something happens.We as citizens should take part at the start not the end.The BOS holds more night meetings than day.The truth is we do not take the time.More citizen oversite is the solution and answer.

        • The SB members receive a copy of the monthly financial report in their agenda packets prior to every SB meeting. Clearly they haven’t been reading them. Or they did and were ok w/ T. Arbogast’s misleading info on the reports. Either way – it doesn’t look good – didn’t bother to read or went along w/ the deceit.

    • Please, please, please stop blaming the press for this mess. The press has not lied. They have only brought to light the poor reality.
      As a parent, I have had many interactions w/ Terry Arbogast and I can honestly report that NEVER have I come away feeling satisfied. He once told me – and I quote “you don’t have to talk to the school board. I let them know what they need to know”. While I understand the superintendent’s role in terms of supt/board relations and communication – his statement was ludicrous and arrogant. And that about sums up about every interaction I’ve had with him.

  3. So let me get this straight. The BOS is upset with the Supt, so they punish the entire admin staff. What am I missing here? Fellas, sit down and discuss this like mature adults if you can. And what is this “Pentagon” mentality? From what I’ve seen in school district offices where I’ve lived, including here, the personnel work incredibly hard to get books, services, technology, instruction and training and all the things that make a school system work. They work hard to get payroll and benefits done quickly and efficiently for the staff. I fail to see how punishing them or reducing their numbers can benefit the students and district. Maybe BOS are unaware of the grants they seek and win on behalf of our students; maybe BOS are unaware of all the government regulations. Maybe they should actually talk to them to see what they do before so easily slicing $125k off the admin line.

  4. Dr. Arbogast LIED about his salary. He LIED to teachers who suffered through too many years of frozen salaries while the school board secretly raised his salary and he kept it from the public and teachers because he knew the teachers would be upset. He LIED to the board of supervisors with the false budgets he presented to them. If he wants to restore his reputation he can do that by quitting now and not continuing to soak the taxpayers for another seven and a half months before retiring. Or the school board could fire him. Either way would be a first step towards healing.

  5. Doug,

    Why use a term like “Maverick” supervisor (Blog of May 19th) and others using the term “Pentagon” I don’t think we have a maverick supervisor on our board. Using terms like this only causes more controversy to an already hostile situation. But that is what sells newspapers.

    • Fred, I’m confused.

      How does calling a supervisor a “maverick” in a blog (which is by definition an opinion web site) sell newspapers? Blue Ridge Muse has nothing to do with The Floyd Press or The Roanoke Times. It’s just a little web site that I happen to publish for fun, not profit.

      What I write for The Floyd Press is news without opinion, just as what Katelyn writes for The Roanoke Times is news without opinion. We both have editors who make the final decision on what is published in both newspapers.

      It is the actions of elected and appointed officials that create controversies, not the writings of those who report those actions.

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