Board deliberates on school problems

WOODSTOCK — After two hours of discussion at a Thursday work session, the Shenandoah County School Board members came to a consensus. They need to solve the problem of overcrowding in schools as soon as possible and develop a timeline for a short-term solution.

Short-term effectively means as soon as possible, but as Superintendent Jeremy Raley and board members discussed on Thursday, effective short-term changes cannot happen until fall of 2016 or later.

Possible changes as defined by the district’s SPACE committee, which was formed last fall and met monthly to assess ways of solving overcrowding in schools, include redistricting, adding portable classrooms to campuses that need them, moving the fifth grade to middle schools or a combination of all three.

Other recommendations from the SPACE committee were to open the south campus boundary as a flexible solution for students from other campuses who would prefer to attend school where it isn’t so crowded, or build a magnet school to draw from northern and central campuses.

Of all the ideas the committee suggested, Raley said none jumped out to its members as preferable to any others, and board members also could not agree on which route to pursue.

Instead, they agreed with the SPACE committee’s three conclusions: The issue of overcrowding is complicated, something needs to be done now and nobody really knows how to make that happen.

The main problems with every proposed idea come down to time and money.

Moving the fifth grade to the middle schools will require time for finding and preparing available space and moving supplies, in addition to the cost of moving all those materials and hiring more support staff.

Portable classrooms, in addition to monetary cost, would affect parking on the northern campus or require students on the central campus to walk a distance, even in bad weather.

Redistricting will first require time for community input.

Chairman Richard L. Koontz Jr. asked the board to agree on a timeline for starting a process of change, but eventually agreed to discuss the matter further at a May 6 work session. The timeline likely will include a study to determine the needs of schools and how redistributing students will help.

The last study of schools was done in 2006. A new study will probably cost upward of $20,000, Koontz said.

The board also discussed possibilities for rearranging its 2015-16 instructional budget, which was not fully funded by the county to account for everything board members termed essential — including a state-mandated 1.5 percent salary increase for all school personnel.

The increase will cost $511,932, Raley said, though the School Board budgeted for a 2.5 percent salary scale initiative that will make salaries in Shenandoah more competitive with those in surrounding districts. Changes to the salary scale include increases for some employees but not for others, Kathryn Holsinger pointed out.

“Some of those scales go down,” she said.

But it makes the scales competitive, Sonya Williams-Giersh told fellow board members.

“If we do nothing, we lose even more ground,” she said.

The board could not agree on any changes to its budget or any items that are less essential than they had deemed them to be when approving the budget in March.

“We certainly want to make the right decisions and not rush,” Raley said.

The board will meet for a work session at 6 p.m. May 6. Its next regular meeting is at 7 p.m. May 14 in the county board room at 600 N. Main St., Woodstock.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com