For Floyd County’s school system, war is not the answer

Floyd County School Superintendent Terry W. Arbogast says his people are ready to “go to war” over the strained relationships between the educational system and the board of supervisors.

Indian Valley Supervisor Fred Gerald, in a comment posted to this web site, says he should.

“I say go for it Dr. Arbogast,” Gerald says. “Enough is Enough!”

Yes, enough is enough. We’d had enough secrecy from the school board. We’d had enough attempts to avoid problems with teachers and other employees of the school system by listing a lower — and incorrect salary — for the administrator in the school board budget.

Both Arbogast and Gerald blame The Roanoke Times and The Floyd Press for the controversy but all the media did was report what has happened.

Katelyn Polantz of The Times exposed a culture of secrecy within the school system that does not serve the public and that culture — not the media — created the controversy that keeps tongues wagging in Floyd County.

Polantz did her job — and she did it better than I did.  After a recent school board meeting, Arbogast confronted her and accused her of turning his staff against him by reporting the informal and secretive way the school system approved a series of raises over the years that has almost doubled his salary and makes him — by a wide margin — the highest paid county employee.

The school superintendent’s complete compensation package paid him a little over $168,000 over the past year — in a rural county where the average individual income is about $26,000 a year.

Arbogast admitted to me that he kept his salary line item at a lower-than-actual figure for several years to avoid angering teachers because he received a raise when they did not.

“It was a no-win situation,” he said.

It didn’t have to be that way. If the superintendent and the school board had been open with the public over each and every raise given to the system boss the matter would not have reached the serious situation the county now faces — one where the board of supervisors has to move money around in the budget to give school employees a modest one percent raise when the school board won’t.

The school superintendent says he answered any question about his salary when asked. Yes, he has, but he answers in a limited way that only addresses the specifics of a question. in a truly transparent system the information should have been provided openly without the need to ask questions. Requiring members of the board of supervisors to file formal requests to obtain actual salary figures is not an open and transparent system. Neither is tapping funds left over from teacher vacancies without providing an explanation of the process as part of a budget request.

On May 5, The Roanoke Times editorialized:

The Floyd County Board of Supervisors must demand answers from the school board about what has been going on with School Superintendent Terry Arbogast’s compensation package.

Right now, the people cannot trust that their government is spending dollars wisely and doing business in the open.

If the school superintendent wants to restore his reputation he needs to abandon his usual strategy of bluster and admit he made a mistake. If the school board wants to end this standoff with the board of supervisors they need to prove they can conduct the public’s business openly and without concealment.

War is not the answer.

Transparency and openness with the public is.

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7 thoughts on “For Floyd County’s school system, war is not the answer”

  1. Let me start by saying that I agree this whole controversy here in Floyd County could have been avoided with more transparency by the School Board. I do think that an admission of that and apology would go a long way in fixing things. There needs to be apologies from both sides. Where one side might have been “vague” the other side has bordered on outright dishonesty. There is a lot of blame to go around. You Doug Thompson and the reporter from the Roanoke Times have done a fine job of only reporting half the story. That combined with a Board of Supervisors who don’t understand the budget (I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt here otherwise the actions of some on the Board of Supervisors would be just plain dishonest and in a case of disseminating known false information, fraudulent) has led to tremendous distrust and misunderstanding between the two boards and the people of this county. Supervisor Virgil Allen was quoted in the Roanoke Times as noting a 31K increase in the administrative category in the budget this year. The increase was due to demands that the budget be more transparent – just like he wanted. Furthermore putting the money in that category doesn’t mean that anyone got a raise this year (that happened 3 years ago) or is getting a bonus. The sad thing about his statement is I honestly don’t believe he has a clue what the increase in that budget line represented. Instead of “guessing” it is his responsibility to go and ask for himself what that increase is not to guess. His “guesses” are costing people their jobs.

    In yesterday’s Muse you Mr. Thompson posted the following:
    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.
    How can you reduce funding back to current levels when the Board of Supervisors hasn’t increased the funding from the county in 3 years? Also the superintendent last got a raise in the SAME budget year that the staff of the school system did. You know this or would have if you’d have asked for an explanation. This type of misrepresenting and perhaps not understanding the facts is what has led us here. So yes, as much as you might not want to admit it the press does bear part of the blame here. A glass can be half full and yet you can report it as half empty. Both descriptions are correct but it is the impression you want to leave on your readers that makes the difference. Everyone has personal biases, but the press is also under more scrutiny in today’s times. Being reporter it is your responsibility to tell BOTH sides of the story. You constantly bring up the fact that Dr. Arbogast and Mr. Phillips tell different versions of the same story. Let me ask you this. Have you ever witnessed a car wreck? If 5 people saw the same accident you would get 5 different versions of what happened. Does it really surprise you that these two men would describe something differently when it happened years ago?
    The county employees are about to get a 3% pay raise this year and I’m happy for them. They work very hard and the work they do benefits everyone in this county. The Board of Supervisors then voted to take another 125k from the administrative line in the School Board budget to cover the costs of a 1% raise for school employees. This will only result in the loss of more jobs. I’m sure their reasoning was twofold: to feel better about giving the county employees a raise and not giving the school employees one, and to stick it to the school system’s administration. The raise that the county employees got would have prevented the loss of 5 teacher assistants in the county. The 125k taken out of the administration line could mean the potential loss of 3 or 4 more jobs. The net effect of a 1% raise for school employees after taxes isn’t enough to fill a 5 gallon gas can to mow the yard with once a month. So I hope that the Board of Supervisors can feel proud knowing that they just cost 5 to 9 more tax paying families in the county their jobs so they can say have things more transparent.
    Times are tuff, everyone knows that. If the county wanted to help its employees why not give them a 1 time bonus? Instead they choose a recurring expense that effectively takes 16% of the new tax increase out of the equation in the future. I don’t know how the school system could swing it but I’d like to see that 125K go to keeping as many employees as possible that are being let go. Speaking for myself I’d skip any raise to help others keep their jobs. I’ve spent many years in the service of my country and I’d never leave a fellow soldier behind on the battlefield. The lack of communication between the School Board and the Board of Supervisors and the actions of the Board of Supervisors’ could potentially leave 5-9 fellow employees (and their families) out there on this battlefield between them. In the service we’d be told to get our **** together and get on with the mission. This is exactly what needs to happen here. The two boards need to get together hash out their differences transparently and save as many of those employees as possible.

  2. As someone who has worked in the school system, I have seen first hand that teachers spend their own money on supplies and material, going the extra mile for their students. Transparency or no, Dr. Arbogast should be ashamed of his salary, money that came at the expense of the people who are really in the trenches – the teachers. There is absolutely no justification for his salary and that is getting lost in all the bluster and posturing. He’s overpaid and the teachers and assistants and every other employee of the school system is underpaid. Period.

  3. Arbosgast teaches school law so he knows that anyone who wants a job in the Floyd County school system is required to sign a contract to be an employee. It’s very cut and dry, no signed contract means no job and that means no pay.

  4. Wow – I’m starting to think that “Emmette” is Terry Arbogast. Or maybe his BFF?
    Bottomline – others are not responsible for a person’s actions. Stop the blame game. Stop arguing about the meaning of “raise” – T. Arbogast didn’t technically get a raise? Well, it was still loads more than anyone else got – no matter what you call it.
    Folks are tired of what has been – and want/need to look forward to what can be.
    T. Arbogast needs to go ahead and resign now. Save this wonderful community any more embarrassment. Give L. Pluska the “acting superintendent” role w/ a stipend. It will still save lots of bucks for FC.
    The 3 SB members who are up for re-election should go ahead and announce they do not plan to run again.
    Let’s start talking to some new folks who would serve well on the school board – and put our faith and support behind them.
    Our community as a whole has suffered enough. Let’s move on.
    And BTW – please ensure that our current superintendent has NOTHING to do w/ the search/interview/vetting/hiring process of a new superintendent. We don’t need him poisining good prospects.

  5. I agree Arbogast needs to resign along with Doug Phillips and any other board member who agreed to give him these raises and benefits. I think they should resign as of June 1st of this year and not prolong it any longer. They brought shame on themselves and to Floyd County. Get rid of the “good ole boy” system and bring in honest and competent individuals who will serve the children of Floyd County and put them first.

  6. You would probably be surprised to know that I agree with some of the feelings expressed here. However,I do believe that all the attention that is directed at Dr. Arbogast is distorting people’s views as to what is really happening here.

    When you view this situation with tunnel vision you lose sight of a few things:

    1) Dr. Arbogast has announced his retirement, thus he will be gone before this next budget year is over. Moving money around in the different budget categories isn’t going to hurt him one bit. The actions of the Board of Supervisors however could very well cost more people their jobs.

    2) They voted to move $125K (from the school system budget)into other budget lines to give school system employees a 1% raise. My point is that I would like to see the school system use that $125K to keep the 5 teacher assistants that are being let go.

    3)The school system is the largest employer in the county. The employees got hit with the same tax increase that everyone else did. The county employees will get a 3% raise and the Board of Supervisors intends that moving $125K between categories will give the school system employees a 1% raise. I would assume school system employees are only worth a 1/3 as much as county employees?

    4) Members of our Board of Supervisors had no clue where to put that money in the school system budget to give a 1% raise to school system employees. If they don’t even know where to put the money for a raise for the employees, how can anyone presume to think that they are qualified to allocate money by categories to the school system?

    5) When you have one supervisor saying he “guesses” that money is being spent on “something”, then the county has a real problem. I don’t know about what anyone else thinks; however, I want members on the Board of Supervisors to “know” what money is being spent, and where. If they don’t, then they’d better find out instead of making vague comments about the “Pentagon”????

    6) The school system which is the county’s largest employer got $0.00 from the tax raise. I guess the Board of Supervisors thinks that raising the taxes on the single largest group of taxpayers in the county and then turning their backs on them when it comes to the budget is a good idea. I think it is a slap in the face to everyone that works for the school system. The school employees, by and large, would rather have the extra money given to them by the county go to keeping jobs. That does not appear to be an option since the Board of Supervisors has once again not given the schools any extra money for the 4th straight year.

    7) With less people to help in the school system the children are bound to suffer. It is just a matter of doing the same amount of work with less help. All of this being done so a “point” can be made to a man who is already leaving. Now that is a real vision for our children.

    8) Lastly, I would be interested in knowing if any on the Board of Supervisors abstained on the vote that involved giving a raise to county employees when a family member works for the county. One of the board members didn’t vote on moving funds for the school employees to get a raise due to his being employed by the school system.

    Times are really tough when it comes to finances. The Board of Supervisors should vote to give the county employees a bonus that is equal to a 3% raise. If they give this raise they are using $110K of that $640K tax increase. This is money that will have to be spent every year. I think that is a poor decision. Give the bonus and if times are good give another bonus next year. However, if times are hard the county will have an extra $110K in the budget next year.

    My biggest concern is that I just do not want more people to lose their jobs due to these poorly thought out decisions. If people want change, they will have the chance to vote some people out of office next year. Do not make more good people lose their jobs and hurt our children, simply to send a message to a person who won’t be back anyway.

    • I understand your points.Yet it is still up to the School Board to approve their budget.The BOS are approving by category, not line by line.The School Board will make the choice of giving raises or saving jobs.Transparency has been the issue.The School Board made the choice to give raises and bonuses to the superintendent without the amounts being included in the minutes of their meetings.The School Board approved how it was or was not included in the budget,when given and budgets since.As to county raises vs school raises where was the outrage when school employees were getting 3,4 or 5 percent increases and county employees were getting 0,1 or 2 percent increases.Yes it did happen that way for many years.What about tax increases in those years for county employees?No easy answers for either Board.Citizens are upset at both Boards.Few take the time to talk to their representatives muchless attend meetings. Citizen oversite is the responsibility of each of us.

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