School board meets with supervisors to discuss future budget

Superintendent Gena Keller and chair of the School Board, Camilla Washington, thanked the Board of Supervisors for its recent $300,000 allocation of funds to prevent teacher furlough days.

“We are truly grateful for those funds. Our staff has been hurting and feeling the pain and our students have too as they come into those building day to day,” said Washington.

However, while the scene was comfortable, it was not without disagreement.

“Can you tell me why the school will not permit donations of instructional supplies?” asked Chair of the Board of Supervisors, Shaun Kenney.

“Oh that’s not true!” said Keller. “We spent most of September and October outlining how you could contribute. We’ve had specific people make private donations to activity funds; one person literally donated 1,000 glue sticks. We do what we need to do right now to help our teachers and children get what they need.”

“Well, I’m glad we can dispel that myth,” said Kenney.

Keller’s presentation focused on the requirements of the upcoming budget, including funding cuts from state and federal sources and a history of Standards of Quality (SOQs), which are minimum educational standards set by the Virginia Board of Education in 1971.

On Friday (Nov. 30) the Virginia Department of Education released four new SOQ requirements, which increase staff to student ratios for reading specialists, math specialists, educational data coordinators, and assistant principals.

“If there aren’t new funds for that, then some funds are going to have to be acquired,” said Keller.

“You can apply to the General Assembly for variance, which northern Virginia has done,” said Kenney.

Keller also presented the supervisors a list of the potential cuts to make up for the $985,000 the school board agreed to cut next year in exchange for the $300,000 in supplemental funds they received last week. The cuts included increasing the pay-to-participate fee for athletics from $60 to $75, restructuring alternative education, eliminating up to eight positions, and closing Columbia and Cunningham elementary.

“This list of cost reductions is very good, it’s precisely what I wanted to see,” said Kenney. “I would strongly urge each of you [to look at these], because until we get economic development off the ground locally, the only ones that are going to come to our rescue is ourselves.”

The School Board warned the supervisors that if both of the smaller elementary schools close, there would be a need for a new elementary school in three to four years.

“When we talked two weeks ago, we were talking about $985,000 in cuts. Cunningham and Columbia will have to be a part of that. My understanding is that that was pretty much etched in stone,” said Ullenbruch.

Both boards discussed how they might be able to afford another school building in the future, if Cunningham and Columbia close.

“Well, Louisa built a new elementary school and paid cash for it,” said Ullenbruch.

“How would we do that Bob?” said Supervisor Joe Chesser.

“That water pipeline. There’s going to be a significant impact on us if we’re going to be able to afford it,” said Kenney.

In the end, members of each board thanked each other for taking the time to meet.

“We’ve been operating under fire overhead, and this is truly refreshing,” said School Board member Carol Tracy Carr.

“That’s because the hard part hasn’t happened yet,” said County Administrator Steve Nichols. “We haven’t had to pass a budget.”

The two boards will meet again in February for another budget work session, after the federal and state budgets are clarified.

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