Public education is one of the most important pillars of our, and any, community.

Shenandoah County has historically cared about the state of its schools. In the current county Comprehensive Plan with a vision to 2025, the crafters cared so much that they stated in the implementation section: “In keeping with the view that… companies value academic excellence in their employees and future employees, commit to enhancing the academic excellence in the county’s high schools, particularly with respect to those students who aspire to a four-year college education. Specifically, appropriate from local resources 5% more per year, over and above other increases, for the next five years for school operating expenses. This 5% per year increase should be earmarked for improvements in education quality.”

Maintaining competitive salaries, hiring more teachers to reduce class size, providing human resources support to employees, having effective leaders – these are all integral to improving and maintaining quality education. For example, keeping teachers with master’s degrees and the ability to teach classes that qualify for dual enrollment with Lord Fairfax Community College provide a distinct and attractive advantage to Shenandoah County families. It helps both those who desire to obtain a certificate and enter the workforce immediately after graduation and those who desire to continue to a four-year college education and beyond.

Paying employees who instruct our children a competitive wage, attracting strong leaders, respecting our para-professional, cafeteria and transportation staff are of utmost importance. The president of the Winchester Education Association wrote recently in a local newspaper about the Winchester City Public schools’ budget proposal: “raises for staff matter, as a tool for attracting and retaining highly qualified folks, but more importantly, they offer a signal that the sacrifice educators have made will not go unrecognized.” This budget discussion happens at the same time when teachers are making decisions about where they will teach in the next year. It was a mistake to imply to them that their work is not valued. It may take years to recover from that mistake.

There are some who believe that cuts to the budget will somehow be a benefit to our children and their education. This makes no logical sense. Cutting the budget, losing sports, clubs, and transportation funds for field trips do nothing to enhance the education of our children. Cutting the budget, falling short of maintenance of effort requirements and losing funds for special education services do nothing to ensure that all of our children get a quality education. Cutting the budget and not maintaining eligibility for federal CARES Act funds do nothing to ensure that our children have access to tools and a safe learning environment. Cutting the budget and not giving our teachers a raise for the second year in a row does nothing to help maintain experienced and high-quality educators in our schools.

Because of all of this, I implore the Board of Supervisors to fund the school system at the level requested by the superintendent and the School Board, not less.

Kelly is a resident of Mount Jackson and a parent of two children who attend Shenandoah County Public Schools