Board hears plea for school funding

WOODSTOCK – Dozens of people asked Shenandoah County leaders to give the School Board the money it asked for in next year’s budget.

The Board of Supervisors held a public hearing on the proposed tax rates and the fiscal 2016 budget on Thursday at W.W. Robinson Elementary School. At least 200 people filled the auditorium.

With no changes in the tax rates on the table, supervisors will consider a general fund budget of $62.58 million that includes more than $25.7 million for the school system. However, the board voted earlier this month to appropriate approximately $1.9 million less than what the schools Superintendent Jeremy Raley requested in his proposed budget.

Almost all the more than 30 people who spoke at the hearing asked the supervisors to find a way to fully fund the School Board’s requested budget. Most of the speakers refrained from mentioning the proposed salary increases in Raley’s budget that are at risk if not funded. The county division must provide a local match to receive state funding for 1.5-percent salary increases. Rather, speakers focused on programs that Raley has said are also at risk if not funded. Many of the speakers, including students, voiced support for expanding preschool and a biomedical sciences program.

Some speakers also argued that the county would sacrifice education spending in the name of keeping the tax rates low.

Most of the audience members stood up as members of a recently formed Shenandoah County Parents’ Alliance for Strong Schools. Dan Walsh, with the group, pointed out that the county spends less per student on education than other divisions and the budget under consideration would not close that gap.

“If you take nothing else away from this hearing tonight, please take this: We are paying attention now,” Walsh said. “We are tired of having our kids educated in overcrowded and under-funded schools. We are tired of having our best and brightest teachers leaving us for school districts that pay better and we’re tired of watching committed teachers have to be torn between their dedication to our kids and our schools, and their need to provide for their own family.”

Walsh went on to say that the group is disappointed that supervisors decided not to include more revenue in the budget.

John Middleton spoke out in opposition to the schools budget even though the requested increase in funding has not made it in the county spending plan. Middleton said spending on education has increased 18 percent over the past four years but the test scores continue to fall, according to school system data.

“It just seems to me that throwing more money at the problem has obviously not fixed anything because we’ve increased the budget each year by 18 percent but the scores are going in the opposite direction,” Middleton said.

Several School Board members spoke in support of the division’s spending request. Vice Chairwoman Karen Whetzel mentioned that supervisors plan to fund the local share of the costs for the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail using money from the county’s reserves. Whetzel suggested that supervisors also use money from savings to support the School Board’s budget request. She noted that the county government budget as proposed includes a 2.5 percent salary increase for workers and suggested that the school workers be treated the same.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com