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Panel probes meals tax increase


School Board continues its support of proposed hike to raise money for system

By Candace Sipos -- csipos@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- The city School Board continued discussions on two controversial issues -- a possible meals tax increase and overcrowding -- at its regular meeting Monday night.

The board is continuing its support of a proposed meals tax increase to raise money for the school system. Board member Melvin Thomas said he has been putting together a committee, which will meet for the first time within the next couple weeks, to work on the issue.

"We're looking enthusiastically forward to pursuing this," Thomas said.

The committee is one of two requests made of City Council in evaluating the proposed increase, along with hiring a public relations/advertising team "tasked with the development of a messaging and marketing plan," according to memo from board Chairman Barry Deuel.

According to Superintendent Rick Leonard, this part of the process is estimated to cost anywhere from $350 to $450.

The document states that City Council has been looking into raising the city's meals tax from 5 percent to 7 percent in 0.5 percent increments over a four-year period. For each increment, the projected revenue is $500,000, meaning the total expected revenue from the 2 percentage point increase would be $2 million.

The board also heard from Melanie Hennigan, principal architect with Grimm + Parker Architects, the group hired in August to prepare a feasibility study on options to combat the elementary school overcrowding.

More recently, board members and parents at two December public meetings brought up an issue -- the overcrowded "bubble" of students moving into the middle school.

According to a presentation given by Hennigan, grades 5-8 will be about 136 students, or 11 percent, overcapacity by 2016.

Board member Randolph Bryant asked whether fifth grade could fall back into the elementary schools once the overcrowding issue there is addressed to prevent Daniel Morgan Middle School from becoming overcrowded.

"I think that's something that we really need to consider," Winchester Public Schools Executive Director Kevin McKew said. "That's kind of the newest wrinkle, that we really didn't look at the middle school piece as a potential problem."

Bryant noted that the increase in students coming into the school system doesn't appear to be temporary.

"The numbers we were given ... in addition to our birth rate records didn't make this look like it was a transitory bubble," Bryant said. "It looked like it was maybe here to stay for a longer while than we initially anticipated."

For 48,000-square-foot John Kerr Elementary School, which is 39 years old, according to Hennigan, the options are to either renovate and add on to the building, or build a new school -- either on the same site or elsewhere.

Board member Vince Di Benedetto called the decision "a no-brainer," supporting a new school at another site.

In other news, the school system was selected in October to undergo the CTE Civil Rights Compliance review from the Virginia Department of Education. School officials have to file the paperwork by Jan. 29 and auditors will be at the high school checking on the facility March 27-28.






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