( 1 Vote )

School board member Brenda PaceBy the end of today’s two-hour long called school board meeting, over half of the School Board had shed tears while addressing the crowd, tears of frustration and anger.

“I’m still in semi-shock, but I am angry, I am mad, and if that’s what it’s going to take to get [the Board of Supervisors] attention then we all need to get mad. Let them look us all in the face and tell us that our kids aren’t worth it,” said school board member Brenda Pace.

In one fell swoop, the Board of Supervisors may have undone over a year’s worth of school board work on the Domino transition plan their vote on Wednesday to set the tax rate at 59.81 cents per $100 instead of the advertised 68 cents. The decision cut $2.8 million from what the School Board requested for fiscal year 2013.

“I personally think it’s disrespectful. I hope this community gets as angry as I am right now,” said 12-year school board member Bertha Armstrong. “It tells me it doesn’t matter if it hurts or doesn’t hurt, somebody [doesn’t] care what happens to our school system.”

Armstrong and Pace weren’t the only members of the School Board directing ire at the Board of Supervisors.

“After negotiating with us for months, and us begging them to sit down with us, then complementing us at the beginning of the meeting and then ripping out the rug from underneath us, there’s something ethically wrong with that,” said school board member William Hughes. “It’s no way to do business. And you wonder why people find it very difficult to do business in Fluvanna County.”

Superintendent Gena Keller presented various cost cutting options to the School Board. While the School Board had requested $36.2 million, the Board of Supervisors granted them $33.4 million, which is a $1.4 million cut from this year’s operating budget of $34.8 million.

“The services we offer this year will not be the same next year, no matter what we do,” said Keller.

Without even addressing the fiscal needs of the Domino Plan (that is the transition of students between buildings if the new high school opens), the School Board will need to find $1.4 million worth of cuts to their operating budget. On the table for elimination are all field trips, middle school and junior varsity sports, adult literacy education, pre-K, the early retirement program and extended day education. However, the combined cost of those programs is still only $1.2 million. In search of another $200,000 to cut, other factors still being considered include reducing the number of bus stops, reducing instructional hours to the required minimum of 5.5 hours per day, and severely restricting summer and after-hours building use.

The Board of Supervisors sent a memo to the School Board recommending a number of budget cuts, including closing Fluvanna Middle School, the Abrams Building, and Palmyra School. Keller and Fluvanna Public Schools Finance Director Ed Breslauer presented a variety of financial scenarios for shutting down buildings, all of which added a financial burden rather than reducing costs because of the increased insurance liability, among other factors.

According to Keller and Breslauer, not opening the new high school is not a political threat, it’s an economic reality. Their calculations show that not opening the new high school and instead placing it in “caretaker” status, would be $85,000 cheaper than closing Fluvanna Middle, Columbia Elementary and Cunningham Elementary schools combined.

While the board will continue to look for ways to amend the budget before their May 9 vote, they encouraged Fluvanna County citizens to petition the Board of Supervisors in any way that they can to increase funding to schools.

“Every single [member of the community should] go to their appointed supervisor and talk to them, make calls and show up to the next meeting on May 16,” said school board chair Camilla Washington. “The language should be to amend the budget and restore $1.4 million to level funding and $900,000 to move us to the new high school, that’s all you have to say. Tell your neighbors.”

“When you speak, speak with factual information. The people we’re talking to don’t have skin in the game, they don’t have children in the school system, an emotional appeal won’t work on them,” said Hughes. “You must be professional. We will not stoop to their level … These are your children, you need to speak out.”

Rose Bates was in the audience and intends to follow the School Board’s advice. Bates is the onsite manager of the Extended Education Program, which provides before and after school care for 120 Fluvanna children and is in danger of being eliminated.

“Believe me, I’m going to be warning [parents]. I’m going to get all of them to show up May 16 [the next Board of Supervisors meeting],” said Bates. “I don’t know what’s going to be in the future for the kids.”

Lake Monticello parent Rebecca Newman jumped in to support Bates.

“They’ll be at home alone, that’s what they’ll be doing,” said Newman. “There aren’t any programs [being cut] that aren’t important, every single one of them upsets me and angers me that they will get cut. The Board of Supervisors, the three people that voted for the 58.9 cent [tax rate] were dishonest to the public.”

The school board will meet to vote on the fiscal year 2013 budget on Wednesday May 9 at 7 p.m. at the Palmyra School building on Rt. 15. The next Board of Supervisors meeting is on May 16 at 7 p.m. at the new county courthouse in downtown Palmyra.

The Dominoes are teetering, but will they fall?

With the severe reduction in funding, the School Board’s ability to successfully transition students into different buildings after the new high school opens has been put into question.

“The whole transition was just chucked over the fence,” said Fluvanna Public Schools Finance Director Ed Breslauer.

Just to open the new high school and not transition it will cost the district $615,449 on utilities, insurance and additional custodians. Will it be more economically feasible for the School Board to keep the beautiful new $56 million building closed next year? Even if they did, it won’t be cheap.

“It’s just like going away on vacation, if you go away on vacation for a week the electric meter is going to continue to trickle. If you shut down everything completely, mold is going to grow, systems are going to shut down,” said assistant superintendent Chuck Winkler.

“The level of risk goes up for a building that is not occupied, so the insurance will stay the same, if not go up,” said Breslauer.

 

Plan

What it means

What it costs

Plan A

Status quo – keep all of the school buildings the same as they were this year, trailers stay in place, don’t open the new high school

$336,197

Plan B

Take Fluvanna Middle, Cunningham, and Columbia schools out of service but open new high school

$421,442

Plan C

Only take Fluvanna Middle School out of service, and open new high school

$571,465