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The $553,000 school board challenge

Absorb $553,000 in cuts without impacting quality of instruction

by Larry S. Chowning

The dismal state of Virginia’s budget situation has Middlesex school officials looking for ways to save money.

School superintendent Rusty Fairheart has told the county school board that Middlesex will lose about $553,000 in state school revenues in 2009-10 (FY10).

At a board meeting Monday night, Fairheart said Virginia Governor Tim Kaine has recommended that school systems cut administrative and support personnel costs as a way to offset the loss in state revenue.

Fairheart said Kaine also said he does not feel the cuts should impact instruction in the classroom. 

Fairheart, however, disagreed and said small school systems such as Middlesex cannot lose $553,000 in state aid without having classroom instruction impacted in some way.

Middlesex Education Association (MEA) president Doris S. Paige said the Commonwealth is anticipating a $3 billion shortfall over the biennium, $2 billion of which is in FY10. Funding to all of the state’s 132 school divisions will be cut.

Paige said parents and educators in Middlesex County do not want their children to experience larger class sizes, deteriorating buildings, outdated technology, reduced curriculum offerings, layoffs and lower student achievement as teachers struggle to provide quality instruction with fewer resources.

Paige said that the MEA is willing to work with the school board to consider diverse pay options for teachers and staff members in FY10. “We also ask that you strive to preserve as many faculty and staff positions as possible to minimize negative educational impact on our students,” she said.

Gifted programs coordinator Beth Knight Brown told the board that despite the economic downturn, she feels Middlesex is entering an era of “growth and influence.”

Brown said the county can utilize new contacts and new opportunities to develop new educational ideas and innovations. “We have staff members who are willing to write grants and attend workshops in technology to advance in their field and continue their own professional development to create an upscale classroom for the kids,” she said.

“In the days ahead, I have confidence in the leadership of our division, the people of our community and their commitment to continue to improve education,” she said. “I’m sure that we can make decisions that will have a positive impact on our children.”

Middlesex Elementary School PTA representative Karen Daddario said there is not one position at MES that should be eliminated. “There is not one person in that school who, if asked to do something, will not do it,” she said. “I strongly urge you . . . to recognize that our children learn faster when [classroom] numbers are low and the teaching is as high [a quality] as it is.”

School board member Dr. Richard Shores said he has received information from the State School Board Association that the state cuts will be long-term and maybe permanent. Dr. Shores said he feels the Governor is wrong in suggesting to cut school support personnel.

Work Sessions

The school board will hold budget work sessions, which are open to the public, on Tuesday, Jan. 20, at 4 p.m. at the Cooks Corner Office Complex and on Tuesday, Jan. 27, at 7 p.m. in the St. Clare Walker Middle School auditorium.

Also, the MEA is encouraging all citizens and educators to write or email state legislators to urge them that the state school cuts should not be permanent. People can have their name placed on a petition to “fund quality schools” by visiting the website http://www.fundqualityschools.org.

posted 01.14.2009

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