Editor’s Note: A transcript of most of the comments made at this meeting can be found here.
While introducing his proposed 2012-2013 schools budget (which calls for an additional $559,854 in county funding) to a joint work-session meeting of the Rappahannock County School Board and Board of Supervisors Tuesday night (March 20), Superintendent Aldridge Boone reminded the elected officials – and some 50 citizens in the high school auditorium’s seats – that “children are not widgets.”
“Sometimes in the midst of heated discussions about the numbers and programs, benefits and other things, I just think it’s good for all of us to remember that the focus of this budget is our students, and that we as a community should be supportive of those students,” Boone said. “I decided long ago that if you’re going to work in the services of children, you can’t be shortsighted or live in the moment. Education, by definition, assumes a planned, structured process over time – and at all times it is a work in progress.
“Change is inherent in any school improvement process, and all schools exist in a state of continuous improvement,” he said. “Improvement costs money. And a huge part of this continued improvement is having a highly qualified, motivated, workforce – especially teachers.”
Boone said the proposed $559,854 increase in local funding is still subject to change; legislators in Richmond only reconvened to hammer out a final state budget on Wednesday (March 21). The school board itself is scheduled to meet at 8 a.m. Friday at its offices on Schoolhouse Road, to get a
“final” budget ready for the supervisors to begin acting on in April.
“A budget of need is what I tried to present,” Boone said of the budget, which includes state-controlled mandatory increases of $392,939 (for contributions to the Virginia Retirement System) and $56,769 (for employee life insurance, though Boone’s proposal for school employees to pay part of their health insurance would return $56,416). Other proposed increases include a 3- percent staff raise ($153,070); lease-purchase of four new buses ($71,492 annually for four years) and two new Dodge Caravans for student transport ($14,865); an internship program partially funded by Headwaters Foundation ($15,071); rollerblades with helmets and pads ($5,804); a full-time Farm-to-Table program teacher ($12,891); and a $12,000 increase in annual fees to the Rappahannock County Water and Sewer Authority.
“I’m just gonna rip the band-aid off and go first,” said Amy Burnett of Hampton district during the public comment period. “My children have been in our county’s schools since 1997. My son is in his second year of engineering at Virginia Tech, and my daughter is a sophomore at the high school with aspirations of one day attending Stanford or Princeton.
One of my quirks is that I like to make analogies. I think they’re particularly helpful for children, and I think that they can help adults learn too . . . When I was young, my mom made liver for dinner at least once a month. Of course my brother and my sisters and I all hated it. My mom would say ‘Eat it. It’s good for growing children.’ So you might see where I’m going with this. I think this budget is good for growing children too.”
Hurley Smith, of Washington, referring to Boone’s introduction, said: “Citizens are not widgets. We have differing views, differing opinions, come from different backgrounds, and we’re entitled to have our opinions expressed, and to have them respected. And to have in a written document, presented here tonight, where we’re referred to as a “vocal minority,” because we somehow have some questions about some aspect. It’s an insulting term . . .
“We – who are called the vocal minority – appreciate teachers; we think teachers ought to be appropriately paid. We’re all for children. It’s just that we have, I feel, a responsibility to make sure that we have the very best possible schools at the most appropriate price, and not to have something extravagant. I see the rollerblades are still in there. I don’t know whether that’s a thumb in the eye for those of us who’ve raised that point several times . . . We don’t hate teachers, we don’t hate children. We are concerned with the fiscal aspects of the plan. We want the best for the teachers and students.”
“Everybody [all county employees] deserves the same benefits,” said Ron Makela of Amissville, referring to a health insurance package available to school employees that is more generous than that offered other county employees. “and I think that we should work to that end.”
“I constantly hear that refrain that says ‘our teachers are leaving, our teachers are leaving. And they’ll move on to other jurisdictions if we don’t give them raises,’ and so forth,” said William Freitag. “Now yes, we need competent teachers and dedicated teachers, and they need to be fairly paid, absolutely – and whatever it takes to do that, we must do. However, I guess my question is: Are our teachers really leaving in droves?
Said Henry Gorfein of Washington: “I’ve heard today, over and over again, “You can’t simply keep raising taxes.” Well I must live in another county, because we haven’t raised the taxes in this county in four years, almost five. Also, what we pay has gone down, in the last three years our assessment went down two cents out of a hundred. So actually we’re paying less than we were paying five years ago. So I think this stuff that we hear about how we can’t keep raising taxes – well we haven’t, it’s that simple.”
“And the last thing I’m going to say is, I think that it’s imperative that the school system become the center of this community – absolutely imperative. And I’d rather see us spend $5,000 on inline skates than seeing the kids hang around in front of the Quicke Mart when I go over there to fill up the car. Every other county has things for their kids to do; we really don’t have much of a park system and the school is the only place where they can actually play ball.”
Said Jeff Sabol of Piedmont district: “We’re in the midst of a much-needed transformation here in Rappahannock County. We are fixing things that we’ve let go for a long time. And there are folks amongst us that would have us believe that the budget we’ve seen tonight is full of luxury items, and I submit to you – respectfully of course – that we’re not discussing luxuries; we’re discussing foundational neccessity.”