Supervisors’ CHS decision rankles school board
Montgomery County School Board members expressed dismay last week that county supervisors set aside $400,000 for school repairs and mandated that it be spent at Christiansburg High School.
“No way am I going to say I don’t want that $400,000. But it’s this board’s responsibility to say how we are going to spend that money,” board member Penny Franklin fumed at a Tuesday meeting as other board members signaled agreement.
“My comments are to echo what Ms. Franklin said,” School Board Chairman Wendell Jones said. “I do want the ability to decide how to use that money.”
Board members said they were dismayed that supervisors did not consult them before deciding to put aside money for Christiansburg High School. They took issue with supervisors’ description of unsafe conditions at the school, with Jones saying the board had spent “millions of dollars” ensuring safety.
Tattered auditorium seats, crumbling sidewalks and other items picked out by supervisors are aesthetic issues, not safety concerns, Jones said.
“Those things exist in all of our schools in this county,” Jones said.
As for the lack of a girls’ softball field at Christiansburg High, an item singled out by supervisors, school board members said they had long sought a way to deal with it.
Franklin took particular aim at Supervisor Chris Tuck, who led the supervisor’s Nov. 14 unanimous vote to set aside $400,000 in a special reserve for work on Christiansburg High School. Tuck said at the Nov. 14 meeting that his action came in response to comments from school volunteers and students, and noted he had asked for months for details of the school board’s plans for Christiansburg High and not received an answer.
Franklin said supervisors had the information they asked for.
“To quite frankly have someone who’s been involved in this governing process for less than a year run in and say ‘Christiansburg High School is falling apart, you haven’t done anything to keep that building up and you’ve got to do this and got to do that you’ve got the money, do it now!’ I was totally shocked … I’m just very, very, to put it nicely, annoyed,” Franklin said.
Tuck responded last week, saying that last spring, when the school board “suggested a tax rate that would support their budget, I didn’t think they were trying to micromanage the board of supervisors.”
The spending spat is the latest drop in a steady rain of budget worries that has descended on Montgomery County’s government bodies this year. The county passed a record tax increase to pay for construction of new high schools in Blacksburg and Riner, and a renovated middle school in Riner. But the schools’ operating budget was left far short of what the school board wanted and dozens of teaching and other positions were cut.
School board members said last week that rather than fix Christiansburg High School, they’d prefer to spend money on Christiansburg Elementary School, which Franklin called “desperately overcrowded.”
The next priority should be paying for feasibility studies to determine what should be done at the elementary school and also at the high school, which might be better replaced than repaired, school board members said.
The school board has a list of needs at Christiansburg High School that totals more than $1 million, including items like $60,000 to replace the outer doors to the gym, $52,000 to remove mounds from the front of the school, and $300,000 to replace lockers. There is $135,000 on the list for a girls’ softball field.
But, Franklin said, “I’m not so eager to throw money into a building that we might come back and say we’re going to do something totally different,” such as build a new high school elsewhere.
School board members said their biggest gripe was just that they were not consulted before supervisors put money aside for them.
“Let us run the schools,” Franklin said.
Jones said he and schools Superintendent Brenda Blackburn are scheduled to meet with county officials on Dec. 5 to discuss the situation.
“We’ve met more difficult challenges than this. We’ll work through this,” Jones said.
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