School board votes for furloughs; teachers unhappy

At 9:51 p.m., over three hours after the beginning of the school board meeting on Nov. 7, the Fluvanna County School Board voted 3-2 to balance the budget by furloughing all staff for four days, beginning Jan 1.

The decision was not a popular one. High school teacher and football coach Jason Barnett described the teachers as “wiped out.”

“One of the things that has really, really bothered me these last couple of days is that as we hear how we will be cut, I see the way we’ve handled it. It’s sad. The morale is really, really low,” said Barnett. “I will be a teacher, I will be a mentor, I will be a father-figure. All I’m asking is that you remember the teachers. Please do not furlough us anymore.”

Parent Bryan Wright of Fork Union briefly considered putting his son in private school before enrolling him in kindergarten at Central Elementary in Fluvanna.

“I was blown away by Fluvanna County schools and how great they are. I give almost all of the credit for that to the great teachers,” said Wright. “These folks are a wonderful asset and anything you can do to retain them needs to be done. All of that technology and all of those facilities are there to help the teachers teach. Without the teachers it’s like a hammer without a hand.”

The two dissenting votes were from School Board Chair Camilla Washington and Palmyra-district representative Brenda Pace. As a symbolic display of solidarity, the school board also voted to cut their own salaries by two percent, the same percentage that four furlough days will affect school staff. According to Washington, Fluvanna County School Board members are paid between $5,148 and $6,348 per person.

“If we’re sitting here and telling you that you need to cut your salary, then we will too. It needs to be fair to everyone,” said Pace. “But in good conscience I cannot vote for a four-day furlough.”

The other options on the table mostly included eliminating positions, which the school board deemed too legally risky in the middle of the year.

“My understanding is that we were in contracts with people and any time you chose to break that contract you are really exposing yourself and the schools and the school board to a legal obligation,” said Rivanna School Board Representative Carol Tracy Carr, a retired lawyer. “That’s something we have to consider very, very seriously.”

“Even if we could win the suit, you still have to pay to get through the law suit,” said Fluvanna Schools Superintendent Gena Keller.

Since the budget cuts in May, the school board has tried four times to get extra funds approved by the Board of Supervisors. They were only successful once, when two weeks after the initial cuts they were awarded $650,000 to open the new high school.

“A decision has to be made to get us through the end of this year,” said Cunningham School Board Representative William Hughes. “I don’t want people to think this is a one-time fix because it’s not. We were told that [the budget] is not going to change for the next three years. This is a community problem, not necessarily a school board problem.”

Hughes also to proposed that the school board take a cut in their own salaries in solidarity with the teachers.

On Dec. 5 the school board will have a joint session with the Board of Supervisors to discuss budget issues.

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