By Kim Walter
WOODSTOCK - A high school student told Shenandoah County School Board members on Wednesday night that he has "got their backs" and supported their proposed fiscal 2014 budget.
Zachary Warfield, a 15-year-old ninth grader at Central High School, voiced support during a public hearing for the budget, which calls for a $1.2 million increase over last year's local revenue from the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors.
The increase would allow for a balanced budget and includes a 2 percent across the board salary increase for all school employees, the purchase of some new textbooks, funding for a certified nursing assistant program, and three specialist positions that are currently federally funded.
"Some people may think that a student like me can't really affect what the Board of Supervisors will do about the budget," he said. "However, the entire student body here in Shenandoah County has a very strong influence over what will be done about important matters, like those we are speaking about tonight."
The student said he spoke for his peers, who are part of the next generation's work force.
"Whether it's working for the CIA or operating your own business, we need to have a bright education," Zachary said. "Even if that means asking for more money."
With everyone's eyes on him, Zachary insisted that "the future consists of people willing to take risks that affect everyone in a positive way."
He said the raise in local funding was fair, as it would "benefit the youth" of the county.
"Let us invest in the future of Shenandoah County schools," he said, ending his statement.
Zachary has attended a few local government meetings before, and said he hopes to participate in student government at school. He said even though he was the only student there, he knew others were paying attention and cared about the budget.
"We know that this decision affects us," he said. "I just wanted to let the board know that I will support them in this battle for the extra $1.2 million, and I will be here on April 23 when it comes before the supervisors."
Zachary's comments came after other speakers supported specific budget initiatives.
Heather Hess, a third grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School, walked up to the podium followed by several other teachers from the same school.
"On behalf of the third grade team at Sandy Hook, I want to thank you for your support of a 2 percent salary increase," she said.
The teacher also reminded board members how important it was to purchase up-to-date textbooks, since standards of learning standards and rigor have been increased recently.
Lisa Stokes, a Valley Health employee and life long county resident, voiced support for the proposed certified nursing assistant program, which would be a joint effort between the high schools and Valley Health.
She said she wasn't at the meeting to push job recruitment, but instead wanted to explain how the program would benefit students and the community.
"My kids graduated from here, and I have grandkids who are in school now, and I think we're all concerned about what these students will do after school," she said. "Healthcare is a wonderful field to enter, and this program can be a great opportunity for kids who otherwise wouldn't have it, to start a career."
She said the program could also serve as a stepping-stone for students hoping to become a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse.
"This is an opportunity for training, so that students graduate and are able to be employed," Stokes said.
To further prove her point, Stokes told board members that Valley Health currently has 23 certified nursing assistant vacancies and 40 registered nurse vacancies.
"That's just Valley Health," she said. "You can help these kids get started."
Ken Sheck, a teacher at Peter Muhlenburg Middle School and president of the Shenandoah County Education Association, asked the School Board to not lower their request for local funds.
He said studies have proven that, from an early age kids need verbal interaction to foster their vocabulary and reading comprehension skills. While some children have a better background to foster the knowledge, he said other students require intensive early intervention and one-on-one instruction.
"We need that reading specialist," he said. "We need more, but we certainly can't afford to lose one because of sequestration."
The proposed budget would fund the specialist positions through the operational budget.
"You aren't asking for too much," he said to the board. "We need a lot more, but if we ask for less than that, we're doing wrong by our children."
The School Board will hold a budget work session at n the county board room at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org