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School budget talks continue Thursday night

by Larry S. Chowning

Middlesex County School Board members recently held two public meetings concerning state school cuts in the 2009-10 budget.

The first meeting was sponsored by Jamaica District school board member Elliott Reed on January 29 at Hermitage Baptist Church. The second meeting was sponsored by Pinetop District school board members Beth Hurd and Jim Goforth on February 2 at the DCA building in Deltaville.

The Saluda District public meeting is tonight, Feb. 5, at 7 p.m. at Urbanna United Methodist Church. It is sponsored by school board members Dr. Richard Shores and Lee Walton.

At the Jamaica and Pinetop meetings, school superintendent Rusty Fairheart explained that the state budget shortfall has forced Governor Tim Kaine to recommend a $2.9 billion cut in state funds. This will result in about a $500,000 cut in state funds for Middlesex schools in 2009-10. 

In response to the cuts, Fairheart outlined his plan to trim $215,000 from the school budget, but stated there is a need to cut an additional $200,000-plus from the budget—and maybe more.

The town-hall style meetings are designed to educate the public about the problem and to receive suggestions for acceptable ways to trim the school budget and ways to generate revenues.

Governor Kaine has recommended that local school systems across the state cut support personnel and administrators as a way to balance their budgets. 

Fairheart has recommended cutting a custodial position, making the school psychologist and social worker 10-month positions, and eliminating a half-time non-core instructional position. He also has recommended eliminating a half-time para-professional position, a half-time clerical position, and decreasing the number of athletic coaches.

During the two meetings, some suggestions on how to cut costs were offered by the public. They included using LPNs versus more expensive RN nurses in the three schools; having teachers and staff members take a percentage cut in pay; using salaried staff members as substitute teachers to eliminate the cost of hiring substitute teachers; and eliminating some school bus routes to decrease the number of drivers while also saving on bus maintenance.

For ways to generate income, suggestions included finding grants to pay for teacher aides; asking those in the community to donate funds to the schools; raising the real estate tax rate by one or two cents; and asking the board of supervisors to hold a referendum on a county meals tax and lodging tax.

Parents and teachers were concerned that the quality of education would be impacted even if just non-teaching positions are cut. 

Fairheart agreed and noted the Governor has stated that local cuts should not impact students in the classroom. However, Fairheart added, “I don’t see any way that it can’t impact students in some manner.”

In Deltaville, Bob Walker, whose daughter is a Middlesex High School student, said he felt taxpayers would be willing to accept a real estate or personal property tax hike to fund the schools’ shortfall. Walker said he did not want the quality of education in the public schools to suffer.

County administrator Charles Culley said, “We had a reassessment last year which raised taxes for a lot of people, and in all of the years I’ve been here, I never heard more about us raising taxes than during last year.”

Pinetop District supervisor Kenneth W. Williams said the county had to fund an additional $700,000 in lost state revenues for the schools last year because of a change in the State Composite Index, a formula used by the state to determine a county’s ability to pay for education.

Williams also noted that every county department that receives state funds will have to cut its budget in 2009-10. “It’s not just happening to the schools,” he said.

Saluda District supervisor Robert Crump and school board member Lee Walton said citizens need to lobby their state delegates to try to persuade them not to cut any more school funds. Crump said this needs to be a statewide effort and he encouraged citizens to talk to relatives and friends in other counties and get them to lobby their delegates.

Fairheart said he has a form on the school website that would make it easy for county citizens to comment to their General Assembly representatives.

State Delegate Harvey Morgan of Middlesex can be contacted at (804) 698-1098, by e-mail at , or by mail at P.O. Box 406, General Assembly Building, Richmond, VA 23218.

At the Deltaville meeting, school board member Beth Hurd thanked the community for attending and reminded them that Middlesex was not in this alone. She also praised those teachers who have suggested taking pay cuts so others can keep their jobs.

However, Fairheart, Goforth and others stated they do not feel teacher pay cuts should be an option. Fairheart said he will try to eliminate positions as teachers retire or take jobs in other school systems. 

posted 02.04.2009

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