To address its sixth year of late school buses and ongoing large class sizes, Roanoke City Public Schools (RCPS) should cancel its planned “Empowerment” Center and reverse two or three other areas of spending that Superintendent Verletta White has added or expanded since her arrival in 2020.
The problem of late school buses started in August 2018. At Patrick Henry High School alone in 2022-23, two bus routes serving largely low-income, African-African neighborhoods in Northwest Roanoke were 20-45 minutes late most mornings of the school year. Those students missed up to half of class time in two of their seven classes (first periods on A-Day and B-Day), for an astonishing total around 100 hours of missed instructional time per affected student during one school year.
The “labor shortage” for school bus drivers, like almost all alleged labor shortages, is really a shortage of compensation being offered. RCPS does not seem to have a labor shortage when it comes to adding extra personnel to central office staffing, at much higher wages and salaries. The size and top-heaviness of the central office has grown since 2020, and now has ample room for cuts and savings.
The second budget area ripe for cuts is the vendor-contracted MAP standardized testing introduced by Superintendent White across many subjects and grade levels. White also implemented MAP testing at her former employer, Baltimore County Public Schools, as chief academic officer, purchased from Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA). There, she and Superintendent Dallas Dance accepted personal payments from NWEA’s affiliate, the Education and Research Development Institute (ERDI). These developments were then covered in the Baltimore media, including Dance’s related perjury conviction and prison time, and all this was easily searchable on the internet when the RCPS School Board hired Verletta White in 2020 (Appendix below). She then started purchasing MAP testing at RCPS.
The MAP testing includes demoralizing long “pre-assessments” at the start of each school year, which test students on content they have not yet been taught. The assessments are repeated two more times during the school year. Then everyone from teachers to the superintendent can claim progress, no matter how low the SOL exam pass rates in RCPS. Sadly, at least in Math, the MAP testing has replaced a battery of wonderful SOL-aligned, locally created benchmark assessments that helped prepare students specifically for Virginia’s SOL tests, which determine student graduation eligibility and school accreditation.
Delegate Sam Rasoul (D) has a history of opposing excessive testing. Although he was informed in 2021-22 about the new MAP testing in RCPS, in his district, he seems never to have addressed it.
In a third area of excessive spending, it is too late for RCPS not to purchase the Roanoke Times building and to find alternative office space to make way for William Fleming’s new ROTEC vocational school in the former Ruffner building. Millions are already spent or committed that could have been saved in more modest leasing elsewhere. But insofar as possible, the beautification should be kept to a minimum.
Of course everyone wants RCPS to serve the emotional well-being of students as well as their academic progress, but the planned “Center for Community Empowerment & Education” is over-the-top unnecessary. Not only are our schools already staffed with counselors and even social workers. Our teachers themselves tend to the emotional needs of students every minute students are in the classroom. Teachers should be trusted and respected in this part of their job that they already perform well and conscientiously.
Besides directing savings to increasing funds for bus drivers, the other area of concern is large class sizes. RCPS has many classes with thirty or more students. Even twenty-five is large for effective instruction in many core academic subjects. A FOIA audit of class roster sizes per general-education teacher per class period would reveal the extent of the problem in RCPS.
For smaller class sizes and on-time school buses, RCPS should terminate the Empowerment Center, stop purchasing MAP testing (or pare back), return to pre-White central office staffing levels, and minimize the expenses of occupying the Roanoke Times building.
Appendix: Background on RCPS MAP testing
Starting in or around 2013, in Baltimore County Public Schools, chief academic officer Verletta White and her superintendent Dallas Dance accepted payments from the Education and Research Development Institute (ERDI).
Dance and White awarded taxpayer-funded contracts to an ERDI business partner, Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), including for MAP testing in their schools, without disclosing their income from ERDI to Baltimore County Public Schools, as required:
http://towsonflyer.com/2017/11/11/60-million-bcps-contracts-linked-controversial-private-clients/ (MAP testing by NWEA listed here)
Superintendent Dance was then convicted of perjury:
Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) has been a client of ERDI and/or vice versa:
NWEA does MAP assessment testing:
A 2017 archived webpage of ERDI, listing NWEA as a partner:
And a joint appearance by leaders of ERDI and NWEA:
Superintendent Verletta White received this personal compensation linked to MAP testing providers in the past, and there is no indication that related compensation has continued during the current period of RCPS purchases of MAP testing under Verletta White’s authority.
Jeff Vanke, Roanoke City