We’re Paying Too Much for New Schools

Following below is cost comparison information for school replacement construction.  All of the figures were obtained from the Virginia Beach City Public Schools website, and the Virginia Department of Education website.  It contains all of the relevant state averages going back to the 2014-2015 school year.

As you can see, we are consistently spending more per pupil and per square foot for our new schools than the state average — in some cases about twice as much or more!   Clearly we should be demanding cost savings.  Those dollars could have gone to teacher salaries, school safety, or a property tax reduction.


Kellam High School:

Original Building Opened: September 1962
Groundbreaking: September 30, 2011
Construction Start Date/Site Work: Winter 2010/11
Construction Start Date/Building: Summer 2011
Projected Completion: Spring 2014
Student Capacity: 2000
Current Student Membership: 1838
Building Size: 336,410 sq. ft. (two stories)
Total CIP Project Cost: $102 million
Architect: HBA Architecture
Site Contractor: A&W Contractors, Inc.
General Contractor: S.B. Ballard Construction Co.
Cost per pupil:  $55,495.10
Cost per s.f.:  $303.20
New high schools 2017-2018 (none)
New high schools 2016-2017
Loudoun County HS
Cost per pupil:  $46,945.00
Cost per s.f.:  $289.92
Loudoun County Median Household Income:  $134,464 (#1 in US in 2016) (source: U.S. Census Bureau)
Virginia Beach Median Household Income:  $61,805 (source: U.S. Census Bureau)
New high schools 2015-2016 (none)
New high schools 2014-2015
Statewide average cost per pupil:  $35,690
Statewide average cost per s.f. $175.65
Old Donation School (Brickell Academy):

Original Building Opened:
Old Donation Center (ODC) – 1965
Kemps Landing Magnet School (KLMS) – 1957
Design Start Date: November 2011
Construction Start Date: Summer 2014
Projected Completion Date: Fall 2017
Student Capacity: 1,375
(ODC-450; KLMS-750; Pullout Programs-175)
Building Size: 225,785 sq. ft. (two – three stories)
Total CIP Project Cost: $63,615,000(+)
Architect: RRMM Architects
Contractor: McKenzie Construction Corporation
Cost per pupil:  $46,265.45*
Cost per s.f.:  $281.75
Campostella K-8 STEM School (Norfolk), 2015-2016
Cost per pupil:  $25,919
Cost per s.f.:  $148.86
Also compare with middle school and elementary school averages following below.
Thoroughgood ES:
Original Building Opened: 1958
Groundbreaking: TBD
Construction Start Date: 2018
Projected Completion: 2020
New Building Capacity: 648
Current Student Membership: 677
Existing Building Size: 66,259 sq. ft.
New Building Size: approx. 94,000 sq. ft.
Total CIP Project Cost: $28.3 million
Architect: VIA Design Architects
General Contractor: TBD
Cost per pupil:  $41,802
Cost per s.f.:  $301.06
New elementary schools 2017-2018
Statewide average cost per pupil:  $29,172
Statewide average cost per s.f. $199.50
New elementary schools 2016-2017
Statewide average cost per pupil:  $26,319
Statewide average cost per s.f. $158.34
New elementary schools 2015-2016
Statewide average cost per pupil:  $22,025
Statewide average cost per s.f. $169.46
Richard H. Bowling Jr. ES  (Norfolk), 2015-2016
Statewide average cost per pupil:  $23,555
Statewide average cost per s.f. $157.32
Ocean View ES (Norfolk), 2015-2016
Statewide average cost per pupil:  $23,066
Statewide average cost per s.f. $168.80
Larchmont ES (Norfolk), 2015-2016
Statewide average cost per pupil:  $24,479
Statewide average cost per s.f. $170.77
New elementary schools 2014-2015
Statewide average cost per pupil:  $25,035
Statewide average cost per s.f. $185.27
Princess Anne MS:
Original Building Opened: 1974
Existing Building Demolition: Summer/Fall 2017
Groundbreaking: TBD
Construction Start Date: 2018
Projected Completion: 2021
New Building Capacity: 1,500
Current Student Membership: 1,479
New Building Size: 222,571 sq. ft.
Total CIP Project Cost: $78.9 million
Architect: RRMM Architects
Demolition Contractor: R. J. Smith Construction Inc.
General Contractor: TBD
Cost per pupil: $53,346.86
Cost per s.f.:  $354.49
New middle schools 2016-2017
Statewide average cost per pupil:  $36,384
Statewide average cost per s.f. $201.45
New middle schools 2015-2016
Statewide average cost per pupil:  $36,256
Statewide average cost per s.f. $198.11
New middle schools 2014-2015
Statewide average cost per pupil:  $40,121
Statewide average cost per s.f. $179.12
(+) This total contains cost of the site as well.
*Cost per pupil is based on current student membership, if available; otherwise, building capacity is used.
**Cost comparison data is from the Virginia Department of Education:


Lenient Disciplinary Policies Enabled Parkland Shooter

An intriguing article by Paul Sperry of Real Clear Investigations points to school discipline policy reforms as a significant factor enabling Nikolas Cruz, the Parkland shooter, to commit his heinous crime.  These reforms, aimed at reducing the number of suspensions and referrals to law enforcement, are said to have kept Cruz out of the reach of authorities when their involvement might have prevented the massacre.

According to the article:

“Despite committing a string of arrestable offenses on campus before the Florida school shooting, Nikolas Cruz was able to escape the attention of law enforcement, pass a background check and purchase the weapon he used to slaughter three staff members and 14 fellow students because of Obama administration efforts to make school discipline more lenient.

“Documents reviewed by RealClearInvestigations and interviews show that his school district in Florida’s Broward County was in the vanguard of a strategy, adopted by more than 50 other major school districts nationwide, allowing thousands of troubled, often violent, students to commit crimes without legal consequence. The aim was to slow the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

“‘He had a clean record, so alarm bells didn’t go off when they looked him up in the [NCIS] system,” veteran FBI agent Michael Biasello told RCI. “He probably wouldn’t have been able to buy the murder weapon if the school had referred him to law enforcement.’

“Disclosures about the strategy add a central new element to the Parkland shooting story: It’s not just one of official failings at many levels and of America’s deep divide over guns, but also one of deliberate federal policy gone awry.

“In 2013, the year before Cruz entered high school, the Broward County school system scrapped and rewrote its discipline policy to make it much more difficult for administrators to suspend or expel problem students, or for campus police to arrest them for misdemeanors– including some of the crimes Cruz allegedly committed in the years and months leading up to the deadly Feb. 14 shooting at his Fort Lauderdale-area school.

“To keep students in school and improve racial outcomes, Broward school Superintendent Robert W. Runcie — a Chicagoan and Harvard graduate with close ties to President Obama and his Education Department — signed an agreement with the county sheriff and other local jurisdictions to trade cops for counseling. Instead of the criminal justice system, students charged with various misdemeanors, including assault, were referred to counseling, which included participation in “healing circles,” obstacle courses and other “self-esteem building” exercises.

“Asserting that minority students, in particular, were treated unfairly by traditional approaches to school discipline, Runcie’s goal was to slash arrests and ensure that students, no matter how delinquent, graduated without criminal records.”

Read the whole thing here:  https://tinyurl.com/yau7uvte

Few Preschoolers Meet Anti-Obesity Guidelines

Obesity has long been a serious health issue in America, with 36.5% of adults now meeting the CDC’s definition.  Since preschool children who are overweight face four times the risk of being overweight as adults, the state of Maine and Harvard University have devised guidelines for children known as “5-2-1-0.”  This concept recommends that children eat 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily, get no more than 2 hours of screen time, perform at least 1 hour of physical activity, and drink 0 sweetened beverages.
A study conducted by the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center has found, however, that among the 398 children observed during a 24 hour period, only one child met all of the guidelines.  Less than 1% met the guideline for exercise; 17% failed to get emough fruits and vegetables; 50% had sugary drinks; and 19% spent too much time in front of a screen.  According to the researchers, a quarter of the children in the study were already overweight.
This study points toward parents as having a great responsibility in ensuring better future health outcomes for their children.  The findings were published in Preventive Medicine Reports.  You can find the article here:

VB SPARK Meeting on Wednesday, February 21

VB SPARK will hold a meeting of its general membership on Wednesday, February 21, at 6:30 p.m., in the atrium at Princess Anne High School.

Our guest speaker will be former NFL player Aaron Rouse.   As a student at First Colonial High School, he  excelled at outside linebacker and wide receiver, earning Defensive Player of the Year, as well as First Team Group AAA.  After graduation he played for Virginia Tech, where he was recognized as Freshman All-American, and later as All-ACC.  He was drafted by the Green Bay Packers, and went on to play for both NFL and UFL teams.  He will speak about the challenges of being a student-athlete.

The event is open to the public.

Letter Grades Under Attack

Jennifer C. Braceras, a Senior Fellow with the Independent Women’s Forum, has written a very timely article for the Wall Street Journal titled “The War on Grades Deserves to Fail.”  Schools across the country are abandoning traditional letter grades in favor of systems that purport to measure “progress toward competency” — rather than actual academic achievement.
“This type of ‘standards-based grading’ (as it is called) represents more than a change in nomenclature.  Whereas letter grades (or numeric percentages) measure the work a student has completed, the new system is concerned primarily with what the student will be able to do by year’s end…. This method of assessment makes even less sense in high school, where students are savvy enough to know that they need not work hard in October to show proficiency in June.”
Braceras points out that these alternative grading systems say little about whether students have in fact learned anything, whether they can meet deadlines, or whether they engage actively in the classroom, all of which are captured  via traditional grading, and which are critical for success after graduation.

To Close a Gap

The Telegraph, the British daily newspaper, reported yesterday that University of Oxford gave students extra time to complete their exams in mathematics and computer science in summer of 2017, in an effort to mitigate the achievement gap between men and women.  “Female [degree] candidates might be more likely to be adversely affected by time pressure,” explained the Board of Examiners.

What sort of message, I wonder, does this send to all the girls who aspire to become mathematicians, computer scientists, or other professionals in technical disciplines?  That women cannot compete with men on a level playing field?  That after decades of fighting for civil rights and gender equality it is time to cower behind a petticoat?  What about the female surgeon, airline pilot, and firefighter — do they get a few extra minutes, too?
Who else is entitled to a tilt in their direction, now that we are in the business of equalizing outcomes?  The New England Patriots have won their fair share of Superbowls, and so perhaps the Eagles should be allowed to field an additional player when they face off in the big game.
And what about those individuals who do not identify with the traditional binary gender classifications?  Who on this Earth stands fit to decide the fair and proper time adjustments in their situation?
Oxford, ranked number 1 in the World University Rankings by the Times of London, has raised some truly vexing questions.

A Winning Attitude

Some years ago I volunteered to coach a high school chess club.  Let me share some observations about the team members’ attitudes toward talent and ability.  My point will be illustrated well by the two top players, who I’ll call Player A and Player B.  From the beginning, both players were solidly ahead of the others in terms of playing strength.

Player A liked to think of himself as “naturally gifted.”  He loved to challenge much weaker players, and reveled in beating them soundly.  Sometimes he would offer odds (i.e., concede a piece at the start of the game), or contest multiple games simultaneously, to underscore his dominance.  On the other hand, he was utterly unteachable.  If I offered some advice about tactics or strategy or clock management, he would try argue with me.  And argue and argue.  And then he would go back to playing for easy wins against totally outmatched opponents — always seeking to validate his view of being blessed with a gift of chess talent, and blocking any evidence otherwise.  In the four years that I knew him, he didn’t improve even in the slightest.
Player B was was equally good, at first.  At least, that is my considered view, having watched both A and B routinely dispatch their adversaries.  They never played each other, though, because Player A always avoided it: a loss would have crushed his illusion of greatness.  Player B, on the other hand, was a coach’s dream.  If I told him about a better way to handle a game position, he would set up the board, and play that situation against me over and over, until the lesson was internalized.  He had no problem losing.  He didn’t lose often, but sometimes he did so to test an idea, try out a different plan, or teach himself a new technique.  His strength increased rapidly, and by the end of one season he had clearly surpassed Player A.  The difference was this:  talent, to Player B, was something to be acquired by the steady investment of one’s efforts and energy, not a gift, to be sheltered and displayed like a precious jewel.
There is a lesson here for teachers and parents.  When children succeed, we should praise them — perhaps not so much for their talent, but for their dedication and persistence.  When they fail, we encourage them to try harder next time, and discourage the self-defeating attitude that they’re “no good at it.”   Recognize them less for what they are, and more for what they have done.  With our words, our actions, and our example, we thereby cultivate the mindset of a Player B.

Teacher Collective Bargaining Hurts Students

I came across an interesting study performed by Michael F. Lovenhiem and Alexander Willen, both of Cornell University.  Titled “The Long-Run Effects of Teacher Collective Bargaining,” this study analyses the effects of teacher collective bargaining laws on life outcomes of the students.  More specifically, the study examines how the people educated in a state were affected after a state had enacted a duty-to-bargain law for public school teachers. 
A link to the original study appears here (along with related studies on the societal effects of public sector unions): 
An article based on that study appears in EducationNext, a website sponsored by the Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.  Here is a link to it:
The results are startling.  According to the article, “students who spent all 12 years of grade school in a state with a duty-to-bargain law earned an average of $795 less per year and worked half an hour less per week as adults than students who were not exposed to collective-bargaining laws. They are 0.9 percentage points less likely to be employed and 0.8 percentage points less likely to be in the labor force. And those with jobs tend to work in lower-skilled occupations.”  The study further notes that “teacher collective bargaining reduces [their students’ total] earnings by $199.6 billion in the US annually… [and] leads to sizable reductions in measured cognitive and non-cognitive skills among young adults.”

The authors report that “Collective-bargaining laws strengthen teachers unions and give them greater influence over how school districts allocate their resources. A typical collective-bargaining agreement addresses a remarkably broad range of items: unions negotiate over salary schedules and benefits; hiring, evaluation, and firing policies; and rules detailing work and teaching hours, class assignments, class sizes, and nonteaching duties. By increasing union membership, collective-bargaining laws also heighten the influence of teachers unions in education politics at the state level….  Critics of teacher unionization argue that collective bargaining in public education has reduced school quality by shifting resources toward teachers and away from other educational inputs and by making it more difficult to fire low-performing teachers. Stronger unions may also have made it  harder for states to adopt policies aimed at improving school quality through enhanced accountability or expanded school choice…. Our evidence points to the conclusion that collective bargaining in public education has been a bad deal for American students.”

Fortunately, in Virginia, public sector employees are prohibited from collective bargaining, absent specific statutory authorization.  This study affirms that this is the right policy for our state.

Federal Regulatory Changes to Affect K-12

An article in the Washington Examiner by Emily Jashinsky looks at reforms being considered by the administration that will affect K-12 and higher ed. Titled “Betsy DeVos Looks to Curb Federal ‘Overreach’ in Education,” the article begins
The Department of Education has its sights set on regulatory reform in 2018. Led by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who often speaks out against what she calls a “one-size-fits-all” approach to education, the department is focused on reviewing rules and requirements issued by previous administrations, seeking to curb what she says is federal overreach.
This effort will include continued review of Title IX guidelines to colleges and universities on the handling of sexual assault cases.  The previous guidelines, which have given rise to concerns for the due process rights of the accused, were rescinded in September.
The … department’s broader goal [is] “reducing overreach the department has engaged in in the past,” in an effort to “[free] up educators and administrators and institutions to actually serve students rather than be more worried about compliance.”
Indeed, teachers and administrators currently expend a great deal of time and energy on data collection and paperwork related to regulatory compliance, and this is a factor affecting morale at schools.
The article continues
On the K-12 level, a possible two-year delay of the “significant disproportionality” rule will likely be opened up for comment as well. The rule is a requirement that states note “when districts … discipline children from any racial or ethnic group at markedly higher rates than their peers.”
With disciplinary reforms already being of great current interest, critical examination of this rule might light the way toward better solutions overall.
Other possible changes include a school choice program (“vouchers”), and expansion of 529 savings plans to include K-12 expenses.
Original article here: http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/betsy-devos-looks-to-curb-federal-overreach-in-education/article/2644402

Carolyn Weems Receives Award

Ms. Carolyn Weems, VB School Board Member, has been awarded the 2017 Director’s Community Leadership Award by the Norfolk Field Office of the FBI.   This award recognizes her many decades of leadership and volunteer work dedicated to drug abuse awareness and prevention.

Let us give our thanks to Ms. Weems for her ongoing efforts to combat the opioid crisis.  We also want to recognize Dr Amy Cashwell of VBCPS for working with Ms. Weems to implement drug awareness curriculum in VB Public Schools to educate about the dangers of prescription drugs.

See the FBI announcement here: