Charles City educators lobby for more funding; county leaders address concerns
Tuesday night’s Charles City Board of Supervisors budget hearing drew a larger crowd than its regular board meeting. And when the public hearing concluded 90 minutes later, a combination of questions, answers, and possible solutions appeared as county educators lobbied for additional funding for schools.
Charles City County’s budget is pegged at $21,010,451 for FY2018-19. Of that amount, approximately $14,330,557 are local dollars with schools being allocated $5,504,573. However, supporters of local schools lobbied for more money.
Nineteen people spoke to county leaders about providing more financial support for the schools. The topics ranged from providing additional resources to assisting with keeping school personnel to upgrading facilities.
Parents and adults who worked with school kids were among the first to speak at the hearing.
“We need good tools for our children,” said Bonnie Whitaker. “Families are the first tools and children are eager to learn. We need to do anything that we can to keep these students funded.”
“Our educators work very hard,” said Wayne Orrell. “I hope we can give an effort financially to provide them what they need to our most precious resources, our children.”
“Schools are improving and running at full speed,” chimed in Amanda Jenkins. “Don’t kick their leg out from other them. Give them what they need and watch what they do with it.”
“No parent should wonder if their child has too little clothes or not enough clothes,” set Charles City Elementary School PTA president Ria Justice. “We are losing a lot of amazing teachers because we lack competitive pay. We are losing students to neighboring counties because it seems that we refuse to invest in our students.”
“We should be building for the future and not the past,” added Tim Justice. “Schools are continuing to do more and more with less. The board talks about the power plant, but that’s three years from now. We have to take care of the children that are here right now.”
School administrators and teachers approached the microphone, speaking of difficulties encountered during daily operations at the school.
“It wasn’t until I became the principal at Charles City Elementary School that I realized the most precious resource in the county were the students,” said elementary school principal Ed Van Dyke, speaking on the commodities that the county offers. “But we’re working in aging buildings and an aging HVAC system. It’s difficult to educate students in a fluctuating, learning environment.”
“Charles City Elementary School has many programs that are beneficial,” said Heather Kennedy, assistant principal at the elementary school. “Every decision you make trickles down to the decisions we have to make. Right now, there re too many job responsibilities that are taken on by not enough people.”
“Schools can’t run effectively with one principal and an assistant principal bouncing back and forth between schools,” said Cheryl Ghee, a teacher in the system as she referenced one of the cuts proposed by the school board at a recent meeting. “It’s embarrassing to read in the paper that schools are even considering such cuts. It makes an outsider think what is going on with that system.”
“It’s going to be harder for staff to keep up with these cuts,” said high school principal Marcus Petty. “I hope you all [board of supervisors] get creative, think outside the box to drive costs down. It’s tough to retain teachers and be competitive.”
Other teachers and school workers spoke about the affects of classroom environments and multiple duties they are responsible for. Some educators spoke about working multiple jobs, while others commented about addressing students’ medical needs on an everyday basis due to classroom temperatures being either too hot or too cold. In addition, some pointed to graduates of Charles City High School being named “Teacher of the Year” at their respective schools in both the county and other cities, hoping to prove a point that good people come from the county’s school system.
Resident Kevin Sullivan said that while he understands that the problems are not because of Charles City’s Board of Supervisors, he believes that local leaders should assist with the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) to help the learning environment.
“A lot of the problems is because of state legislature,” he said, pointing to the decrease funding to local schools. “A lot of problems are due to the CIP and the time frame we choose to replace them.
“There are several items on the budget that can be replaced, but public works is bleeding this county,” Sullivan continued. “The county is planning on spending $600,000 on the wastewater plant at Kimages that serves 200 people. I hope you go over the CIP budget to fix things that the school needs.”
Charles City High School eighth grader Michelle Ghee questioned a summer concert that had a $50,000 price tag for the year.
“I ask the board this question; how many people would you need at the concert if you sold each ticket for $5?” she said. “You would need 10,000 people, but there are barely 7,000 in the county, meaning you will need 3,000 people to show up. But since this concert is free, you’re not making any money from it.”
With public comment period coming to an end, supervisors begin to address comments and accusations that they weren’t funding the school properly.
“I hate to be blunt, but you need to take a look at the school board,” said District 1 representative and board chairman Gilbert Smith. “Last month, their staff came to us to take money out the CIP and put it into another program.”
County Administrator Michelle Johnson pulled up a submitted CIP document sent to her by Superintendent of Schools David Gaston. That document listed needs for projects, listed by priority, for schools to operate. In total, more than 20 projects listed presented a price tag of $767,000. Of that amount, state grants would cover $102,000, leaving the locality to pick up the remaining $665,000. Johnson said that after talking with her staff, she recommended that local dollars be designated for those projects, increasing the school’s original 2018-19 CIP funding from $165,000 to the new amount. Johnson also said that the summer concert series that is budgeted at $50,000 is sponsored by three primary organizations.
Hearing the pleas from teachers and parents about the school’s environment, supervisors gave consent to rework the CIP portion of the budget to fund those projects, but Smith sent a stern message about the utilization of those dollars.
“If this money we gave in the CIP doesn’t go to heating and air, any additional funding they ask for from hear on out will be denied by this one board member,” he said.
District 2 representative Bill Coada’s monologue began with questions addressing comments from speakers. Among those answers include the library referendum along with funding concerns.
“We do not have a business tax in this county,” he said. “We are the only county out of two or three within this circumference without one. We have a business permit and that is a fee of $30 a year.”
Coada asked for a show of hands from the audience to see if they were of the opinion that the board of supervisors were responsible for the school’s not having adequate funding. After a majority of those in attendance raised their hands, Coada pulled up articles from the Chronicle to address the issues of funding by the county for schools.
“We have increased the school’s budget by more than $460,000 in the last two years,” the District 2 representative commented. “The school requested has requested $1,216,093 in that time and this year, they asked for $755,000 in the budget for this year.
Coada implicated that funding the $1.2 million would call for a tax increase of fourteen-and-a-half cents. But on his next Powerpoint slide, he presented the salaries of workers in the school board’s front office, which is all information for public knowledge. According to that document, the school’s former human resources director had a salary of $92,911. In comparison, the human resource director on the county’s side has a salary of roughly $63,000.
“When the public thinks the board of supervisors of the bad guys, we’re not,” Coada continued. “We have increased the school’s budget every year without implementing a tax increase.”
The supervisor showed the salary of central office’s secretary, roughly $48,000 a year. By comparison, a teacher with several years in New Kent school’s system is only making $47,000 a year.
“I know that because that teacher is my daughter,” said a now more infuriated Coada. “I hate to tell you this, but I find something wrong with that.
“This board felt that if we didn’t categorize the budget, the teachers wouldn’t have received raises,” his monologue continued. “We didn’t cut the school budget. This board is the reason why they didn’t have cuts.”
As Coada wrapped up, he did add a comment that something different had to be made in order for the county to move forward.
“If we don’t change the country life in Charles City, we are going to die on a vine,” he concluded, referencing the need for economic development.
District 3 supervisor Floyd Miles Sr. said the board’s representation of supporting the county’s education system is a misconception.
“I am concerned that these people think we don’t support the schools,” he said, also pointing to the additional funding provided over the past years. “However, looking at the school’s proposed budget, there is $700,000 being spent on central office staff for nine people. Something is wrong with that picture.”
Smith’s final comments referenced money that is returned to the county at the end of each year by the school’s.
“We always hear this conversation that they need money, but yet at the end of the fiscal year funds come back from the schools,” he said. “We never said don’t use it. We give it to them to use.”
Charles City’s Board of Supervisors will consider taking action on May 22 on the budget and Capital Improvement Plan.