Some school buildings need repairs, playgrounds

“It is important for us to take good care of our buildings, to stay ahead of the issues, and be accountable for proper maintenance of each site,” said Fluvanna Schools Superintendent Gena Keller, in and e-mail to the Fluvanna Review. “It appears that this has not necessarily been a priority – not because we have staff who aren’t committed … my maintenance team is ‘second to none’ … but, their hands are tied because funds have not been allotted for the upkeep.”

Shaun Kenney, the chairman of the board of supervisors, said the problems are long-standing ones. “All of us also understand that much of this statutory neglect was inherited from the previous regime, both in the county and the schools.  Yet fairness and transparency still remain our core concerns.  The majority on the Board of Supervisors will continue to work with Mrs. Keller and Mrs. [Camilla] Washington in sorting out the school budget, and assist in whatever way possible to right the ship,” Kenney wrote in an email to the Fluvanna Review.

No playground for nine-year-olds

Aiden Kraft collected over 30 balls to be used at Carysbrook Elementary during recess.For his ninth birthday last week, all Fluvanna-student Aiden Kraft asked for was a playground for his school, Carysbrook Elementary.
“He mentioned collecting money for playground equipment. He wanted actual structures. You know, he’s a nine-year-old boy and that’s what they’re interested in,” said his mother, Melissa Kraft.

After the opening of the new high school, the Domino Plan went into affect, making the former Fluvanna Middle School, Carysbrook Elementary School. Now, instead of housing sixth, seventh and eighth graders, the building on Rt. 15 is home to third and fourth graders. Only one problem, whereas budding adolescents have little interest in climbing, jumping and swinging, it’s practically impossible for an eight, nine or ten-year-old to get through the day without it.

But, playground structures are expensive, ranging from $10,000 to $30,000. In fact, they are so expensive that building a playground at Carysbrook was never included in the Domino Plan – even before May’s budget cuts. In today’s fiscal reality, including the building of a new playground in the annual budget would be pie-in-the-sky thinking for the school board.

“Currently, due to the budget cuts, we have concerns about the actual ‘day-to-day’ cost of supplies, the small maintenance issues related to plumbing, toilets, replacement batteries, bolts, general supplies,” said Fluvanna Schools Superintendent Gena Keller in an e-mail to the Fluvanna Review. “Basically, if it is not a safety concern, then we are going to delay the project.”

Although Aiden Kraft couldn’t single handedly rally his birthday funds to build a playground, he instead came up with the idea of collecting footballs and basketballs for students to use during recess. He received over 30 items – footballs, dodge balls, Frisbees, sidewalk chalk, jump ropes and other toys.

“Wow, is that not amazing?” said Carysbrook Principal Don Stribling of Kraft.

Beginning this school year Stribling knew that his staff would have to get creative with recess time, lacking a playground. But limited funds translated to limited equipment.

“You want group play at recess, but everyone was not able to participate, they would have to wait to play kick ball, but now there’s something for everyone to do,” said Stribling.

Carysbrook Physical Education teacher Susan Brown brought another recess idea to Stribling. During the start of each 30-minute recess period, students run laps around Carysbrook field. The distance they run is tracked each day, the main goal being to “run” through each district of Fluvanna county without ever leaving the school.

“This is cross curriculum, this is serving every SOL area in every core area we have – health, math, social studies. It was a win, win, win across the board,” said Stribling.

Stribling praised his staff for creative ideas such as this, and profusely thanked Aiden Kraft and other parents who have donated recess equipment to keep more kids active, “but a playground would be nice,” he said. “Third and fourth graders need a slide, they need swings.”

A parent group called Parents Active at Carysbrook (PAC) was started, with the hope of creating a non-profit 503c organization that can apply for grants for a play structure. One parent who has stepped up as a leader of PAC is Kelly Oliva, whose son Sean Oliva is a third grader at Carysbrook.

“Nobody knows that there is no playground if you don’t have a child there. I want to raise awareness,” said Oliva, who also works two jobs to support her family. “There’s a black top for 580 something students with some basketball hoops and literally just a field beside that.”

Oliva described a number of school fundraisers and grants they are looking into including the Sunny D book campaign, Coke Rewards, Food Lion, Tyson A+, boxtops for education, Cici’s Pizza Day, Papa John’s stickers, bake sales, and catalog sales.

“[School] is hard, it’s stressful. It’s kind of like going to work every day,” said Oliva. “It’s healthy for kids to be able to play. Especially for boys, it helps them burn off a lot of energy that they store up all day.”

PAC’s first meeting was on Sept. 5. Hopefully by this time next year, Aiden’s birthday wish will come true. For more information on how you can get involved in fundraising for the Carysbrook playground, visit the Carysbrook Elementary Facebook page or contact Don Stribling at 842-1241.

Middle school roof “leaks like a sieve”

Carysbrook isn’t the only school building looking to raise money to cover capital costs. Fluvanna Middle School, formerly Fluvanna County High School, has a roof “that leaks like a sieve” according to one staff person.

“It rains in classrooms. Standing water collects daily, and when it rains outside, it is worse. It has been suggested that we strategically place trashcans to contain it,” said the same staff person, who asked to remain anonymous.

“We are aware of the leaky roof,” said Fluvanna School Superintendent Gena Keller in an e-mail to the Fluvanna Review. “Our maintenance department has patched this area and has been able to minimize the impact of the leak. For now, this is our only option.”

Keller went on to say that the Board of Supervisors set aside only $169,000 for small maintenance projects for this year, for the entire school district.

“It is a start in the right direction; however, with the severe cuts, I am not sure that it’s going to help us to identify a $10,000 project that needs our attention when we are having grave concerns about having enough funds to buy the maintenance supplies we need for day to day operations,” said Keller.

Supervisor responds

“It’s not as if this problem sprung up overnight,” Kenney said.  “For years, the lack of stewardship even during the good times within the school system was deplorable.  Those years of statutory neglect – leverage used to force the issue of the new high school, one might add – have allowed problems such as these to fester and grow.”

Kenney said the schools were well aware of the upkeep issues. “The school system knew they were moving into Carysbrook Elementary and the new Fluvanna Middle School this year.  Why did they believe these buildings were adequate for our students?  Who made the decision that early retirement pay or the vehicle fleet was more important than the safety of our school children and teachers?  Who decided that through statutory neglect, allowing a minor problem to grow into a massive problem – thereby spending money that should be spent on people rather than debt service – was the right way to handle the public trust?” Kenney wrote.

“Taxpayers currently throw – between school funding and debt service combined – just over $11,000 per student to this public education system.  In a classroom of 23, that is $253K.  One quarter of a million dollars per classroom.  Subtract out a teacher’s salary plus benefits and ask yourself – where is the money really going?” Kenney asked.

Kenney said he wants to fix the problems. “Let’s be honest though. Casting the blame and working personalities does little to protect the teachers and students who have an unmitigated right to work and learn in better conditions, though it certainly serves agendas,” he said.

Also see: A Look at Spending on Debt and Students

(Note added in the Sept. 13 issue of the Fluvanna Review: Clarification: In a Sept. 6 article on maintenance issues at county school buildings, School Superintendent Gena Keller should have been quoted as saying “The Board of Supervisors has set aside approximately $169,000 for small maintenance projects for this year and it is appreciated.” )

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