A group of over 20 teachers, classified personnel and parents turned up for the first of the three budget input meetings held by the Botetourt County School Board last night, this one held in the library at James River High School. Last week on January 8, the Roanoke Times ran an article about the possible effects of state budget cuts with reduction in work force being the topic in the article. Accordingly, the Botetourt County schools inclusion in the article revolved around the discussion that state funding of 147 positions would be cut by 54 if a reduction in work force happened. Assistant Superintendent John Busher had assured in the article that was not their intention by revisiting the policy.
Five days later and after some obvious communication among members of the attendees and they had a massed filled with worry of job cuts in an already bad economy.
On Thursday night January 8, the school board approved a revised policy on reduction in certificated personnel, but did not address the policy as something they planned to utilize immediately. Matter of fact, it passed quietly.
On Tuesday night January 13, Superintendent Dr. Tony Brads assured the teachers and staff that the policy reflects advice from the Virginia School Board Association (VSBA) and the school’s attorney. But, he stressed, “It is not something we plan to utilize unless we have to our intent is to keep everyone we can. “Areas will be looked at when the budget meetings begin on January 29, and one of those will be attrition through retirement and employees who choose not to return,” said Brads.
The two school board members Buchanan rep and school board chairman Kathy Sullivan and Fincastle Rep Jack Leffel conducting the meeting echoed the sentiment viewing the glass as half full. We will do what we can to keep the quality of our students education said Sullivan and Leffel. Both mentioned CIP (capital improvement projects) on buildings may be looked at if the needs are not immediate to repair or renovate. Both stressed the budget talks do not begin until January 29 so they really haven’t looked at the numbers yet. They had to say that many times during the night’s discussion.
Numerous people spoke with concerns. Barbara Fridley expressed dismay at the possibility of cuts to staffing and she wanted specifics where cuts might take place. Parent Melissa Newcomb whose daughter is in a class of 26 second graders at Buchanan Elementary worried aloud about larger classes, lack of teacher’s aid and the first tests for SOL’s in the third grade next year.
The school representatives were in step telling the group that their main concern is the education of the students of Botetourt County. One Buchanan Elementary parent Jamie Wagner mentioned teachers as her number one concern and Brads and Sullivan noted that the quality education the students of Botetourt County receive is the number one priority.
Leffel noted in his opening remarks that the $2,011,000 they have been notified they will loose in funding is just a beginning number. No one knows how the General Assembly will work with Governor Tim Kaine during the session. It has been normal in recent state budget battles for the local school budget go to approval by their Boards of Supervisors with no firm number assigned by the state because of the General Assembly not passing the funding before the March 31 deadline. The budget has to be presented to the county by April.
Another unknown is state budget cuts to the county. Botetourt County’s single largest budget item is the schools said Brads. We have a good relationship with them and we work well together. We will just have to see how their funding goes as well.”
The lack of the car tax managed on the local level was lamented by a citizen in attendance. “It took away the locality’s major source of funds.”
State funding of the Standards of Quality (SOQ’s) was a hot topic. Brads used building principals on the elementary level as an example of underfunded SOQ’s. “According to the state, Botetourt would only have five principals for seven elementary schools. We have to fund for the two positions because I cannot imagine a building without the leadership and support of a principal,” he told the group. Another underfunded SOQ is guidance counselors for the elementary level as well as Physical Education, Art and Music that Botetourt County provides above the state mandate. “Typically the state has made mandates,” said Sullivan, “but not funded them.”
When asked how those in attendance could help the process, Sullivan said, “Speak with your legislators. Ask they fund the Standard’s of Quality and if they make cuts in the SOQ’s don’t make them permanent.” To the media in attendance, one of the attendee said, “Please get the word out so people will know about the budget process.”
The next budget in put meeting is Thursday night January 15, at Read Mountain Middle School auditorium at 7 p.m.