Recent unauthorized school purchases motivate more cautious approach

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Virginia will have to go through Albemarle County’s competitive sealed bidding process to build an afterschool center next to Jack Jouett Middle School.

On Thursday night, the Albemarle County School Board voted, 6-0, to direct Superintendent Matt Haas to issue a request for proposals to provide afterschool services. School Board member Katrina Callsen was absent from the meeting.

With the vote, the School Board balked at an unsolicited offer from the local Boys & Girls Clubs to build a clubhouse on school property at no cost to the division.

“I’m very concerned about the process by which [the proposal] came to us,” said board member Stephen Koleszar. “We need to have the policy and process in place so we know how to evaluate this kind of proposal.”

“We just wanted to make sure we went through all the appropriate procedures,” board Chairwoman Kate Acuff said in an interview. “Given that this would be a very long-term lease and long-term commitment, we are stepping back and looking at the big picture.”

Acuff said the School Board’s new course of action is influenced by a recent incident involving unauthorized purchases of classroom furniture by a school division employee.

The School Board voted, 4-3, on June 14 to ratify $90,316.92 in school furniture orders from 11 retailers after discussing the matter in two closed sessions that evening. Callsen, Jason Buyaki and David Oberg voted against authorizing the purchases.

“There was no fraud, no self-dealing and no indication that what happened cost taxpayers any more money than it would have otherwise,” Acuff said. “But the importance of following procedure was emphasized. That does have a carryover effect on how we conduct business.”

Acuff said that Haas has instituted another layer of review for employee purchases to prevent a similar occurrence.

“Even though the intent was good and it was not harmful, you still have to follow the process. In that case, [the employee] didn’t,” schools spokesman Phil Giaramita said. “You have to follow the process in place even if it means you won’t get delivery as quickly as you need it. We have to do a better job at planning these things.”

The furniture the School Board approved for purchase will be installed at the county’s new high school student center, Albemarle Tech. The center is undergoing construction in the Seminole Place industrial facility and is set to open in August.

“Sometimes, the urgency to get something done takes higher priority than it needs to,” Acuff said. “That message impacted our choice to slow down a decision on the Boys & Girls Club.”

Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Virginia currently runs an afterschool program in the Jouett school building and serves more than 200 middle school students per year there.

Since early 2017, leaders of the local Boys & Girls Clubs and county schools staff have discussed whether the nonprofit could build a new center on school property to serve more children in the division’s northern feeder pattern.

James Pierce, CEO of the local Boys & Girls Clubs, said the proposed clubhouse could serve 500 additional youth.

A preliminary layout designed by Timmons Group shows a building of roughly 40,000 square feet, including indoor basketball and squash courts. It also would add a 74-space parking lot.

Dean Tistadt, former chief operating officer for the county schools, had identified four possible sites for a Boys & Girls Club on the contiguous campuses of Albemarle High, Jouett Middle and Greer Elementary schools. He determined that the only viable location was the current site of the driver education course between Jouett and AHS.

Rosalyn Schmitt took over for Tistadt as COO on July 1. She said further analysis has confirmed her initial reservations about the clearing, grading and stormwater requirements for the other potential sites.

“The other sites are doable, but not cost-effective,” Schmitt said.

In June, Koleszar and Oberg said they were unwilling to sacrifice the division’s only designated driver education course to build the Boys & Girls Clubs facility. But on Thursday, both School Board members said they would welcome an official proposal from the nonprofit.

“I would like to see this work,” Oberg said. “We always talk about how we want to work with the community and local entities. Private industry is doing something here that would really benefit us.”

Pierce said the organization would be ready with a proposal when the county issues an RFP.

“The people involved here [at Albemarle County Public Schools] are extraordinary leaders in their communities with the best interest of kids in mind,” Pierce said.
Boys & Girls Clubs members, staff and advocates spoke in favor of the new afterschool center at Thursday’s meeting.

Tim Heaphy, an attorney at Hunton Andrews Kurth who co-authored an independent review of the 2017 protest events in Charlottesville, spoke before the School Board as a member of the local Boys & Girls Clubs’ board of directors.

Heaphy, a former U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia, aided the prosecution of gang members in Albemarle County who murdered Waynesboro reserve police Capt. Kevin Quick in 2014.

“The way we can solve this problem of gang violence is through prevention,” Heaphy said. “A sense of belonging drew these young men into criminal activity. We have to give young people an alternative, and a positive sense of identification.”

Acuff said she expects the School Board to review a memorandum of understanding with the county’s chosen afterschool services provider in late 2018.