William N. #8220;Billy#8221; Hill
Incumbent, Holy Neck Borough
Q. What are the top three educational issues facing your constituents?
A. In the Holy Neck Borough, one of the biggest issues facing my constituents is the need for a new elementary school to replace Southwestern Elementary School.
The School Board originally had recommended the building of one school to replace Robertson and Southwestern because it could house current students, as well as allow for some growth, and because of the economy in construction and operation.
However, the School Board agreed with the concept of village schools if the City Council was willing to fund them.
Recently, the City Council, in their Capital Improvement Plan for education, emphasized its intent financially to support the building of village schools. Water and sewage are being planned for the Holland area, which will bring more growth, and thus more students, and make a new school for the Holland and Southwestern communities feasible.
Rezoning of students will be another important issue when a new school is built to replace Southwestern. Students should be able to attend schools where there will be limited travel time.
Because growth in the city has been concentrated primarily in the northern sector, construction has been necessary there to keep pace with student population.
Several of the schools in the Holy Neck Borough have been in use for a number of years.
The issue that constituents might have would be the concern that programs, technology, and facility upgrades would not be equal to that in the new schools.
Q. What are the top three issues facing the school division as a whole?
A. Maintaining quality instruction and having all schools fully accredited, by reducing class size, employing and retaining exemplary teachers, and “moving to the next level” with additional programs/offerings.
Capital Improvements (maintaining current facilities and building new facilities that are deemed necessary to meet student growth)
Maintaining a safe and conducive learning environment for students
Q. What do you plan to do to address these issues?
First of all, I would hope that all Holy Neck constituents would feel free to contact me and discuss their concerns or issues. I have always endeavored to follow up on any concerns brought to my attention.
Working within the School Board and with City Council to ensure adequate funding is the means of addressing many of these issues.
In City Council’s most recent Capital Improvement Plan, it supported the village concept and the building/funding of neighborhood schools, with funding projected to begin in 2009 – 2010.
I would support
that concept in building schools in both the Holland and Whaleyville communities, since student growth would be expected in those areas and would necessitate the need for both communities to house schools.
Because of the current size of Southwestern Elementary and the current growth in the Holy Neck community, I would recommend that a school be built in that area first, if both schools cannot be built at the same time.
Building new schools always impacts school attendance zones; therefore, the rezoning of students would be necessary when a neighborhood school is built for the Holland/Southwestern community. As a board member, I would encourage the administrative staff to develop zoning boundaries that would place the students closest to where they live so there would be limited travel time.
The School Board has been very sensitive to the issue regarding equity for all our students.
We have made it very clear to the Superintendent that even though the school building may not be new, the students should have all the advantages afforded those students in new facilities. I would continue to monitor programs, facility upgrades, and technology needs to be sure this is accomplished.
School Division Issues:
As a School Board member, it is my responsibility to help set both yearly and long-range goals for our school system. To do so, I must constantly assess all administrative, instructional, and budgetary aspects of the program. I would continue to carry out this responsibility and work towards the adequate funding of our school system so that all of our schools are fully accredited, offer quality instruction, have reductions in class size, retain and employ exemplary teachers, and “move to the next level”. Moving to the next level requires the School Board to continue to prioritize items in the “supplemental budget” developed during the 2005 – 2006 budgetary process and request funding, realizing that City Council would not be able to fund the remaining supplemental budget of $6,271,000 in one year.
Being a member of the School Board as well as the liaison committee, which meets several times during the year with two members of the City Council, has afforded me the opportunity to have open and frank discussions concerning our capital needs, especially the need for new schools. I would continue to work with both the School Board and City Council constantly to revise, based on growth patterns, and recommend implementation of the capital improvement plan.
One of our biggest priorities must be to provide students with a safe environment that is conducive to learning.
Without proper discipline and the management of student behavior in our schools, learning would take a back seat. It is the School Board’s responsibility to see that the proper guidelines, policies, and procedures are in place to assist the administration in maintaining a safe and conducive learning environment. Last year, we expanded our alternative programs for disruptive students to include a daytime alternative program that is better suited to meet both academic and behavioral needs. I believe it is necessary to further expand current programs and develop new programs, policies, and procedures that will remove students, who have consistently demonstrated they can not function in a regular program, from the typical school setting. This would provide a better opportunity for the school system to meet the needs of those individuals and provide the regular school students a conducive learning environment.
Q. Some say the school system has stopped teaching our children and is focusing too much on the Standards of Learning. Superintendent Liverman has suggested the possibility in the past of Suffolk opting out of No Child Left Behind. What are your thoughts?
Since February, I have visited every public school in Suffolk, and I can personally tell you that our school system has not stopped teaching our children. When you visit our schools, you will see students involved in a well-rounded educational program. Beyond the core subjects, our school division continues to implement a variety of programs, such as art, vocal and instrumental music, health and physical education, career exploration, and gifted education in elementary through high school. The high school program offers extensive dual credit and AP courses, and the School Board is looking at the possibility of adding the International Baccalaureate Program, as well as an Academy of the Arts and a Science and Engineering Magnet Program.
No doubt, we must emphasize the Standards of Learning because both the students and schools are measured by their success on those tests, and our administration and teachers have worked diligently in seeing that SOL instruction is integrated into our curriculum. We use a variety of strategies and instructional techniques to provide our students the opportunity to maximize their learning potential in all core and elective courses. I believe the State of Virginia has set benchmarks through its SOL programs, and all of our schools have met those standards and are fully accredited.
The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act is philosophically a good idea, but the individuals who developed the program evidently had very little background in education.
Because of that, many school divisions nationwide have had major concerns. Dr. Liverman has not proposed to the School Board that it vote to opt out of NCLB but has voiced his concerns about the necessity for there to be flexibility in the program and the need for revisions and concessions to be made to the program. The Federal government has listened to the outcry from many Departments of Education, school divisions, superintendents, and the public at large who have questioned the fairness of the program, and thus they have made concessions and revisions. NCLB must be continually assessed and revised to be a fair measure for all students and school systems. I do not feel, with our budgetary needs, we would be able to forfeit the monies that we currently receive from the Federal government that are tied to NCLB.
Q. Taxes have been skyrocketing in Suffolk and the schools eat up an ever-larger portion of that money. How would you respond to those who claim taxes are too high and the schools should look for ways to cut expenses?
Growth in the city is skyrocketing, causing the need for more city services, such as fire and police protection, water and sewage, road improvements, recreational facilities, and schools, to “eat up more of the budget”. It is very difficult during a time of growth, such as Suffolk is experiencing, to cut expenses.
Next year we will be opening another new school, Creekside Elementary, and, with continued student growth in other schools as well, Suffolk will need to employ 76 additional staff members, including administrators, teachers, teacher assistants, and others. Over seventy-five percent of the school system’s budget is related to personnel costs. This year we are requesting almost 34% of our budget to come from local funding, and this is only slightly more than 2% higher than last year. Some school systems in our region receive 40% or more of their funds from the locality, and these school divisions are not experiencing the growth that we are in Suffolk.
I am a taxpayer on a fixed income, and my assessment has almost doubled over the past 10 years. Because of this growth, I realize, if we did not have higher assessments, we would be looking at a tax rate increase, without consideration for the value of our property, to meet the demand for city services. The City Council will have to look at all the needs of the city and its constituents and determine if there can be a decrease in the tax rate and continue to meet the demands that growth places on the budget.
Each year, during the development of the school system’s budget, all departments and schools are given the opportunity to present their budgetary requests to the Director of Finance. These items are reviewed, and millions of dollars of requests are eliminated from our budget proposal before it ever reaches the public. The School Board, both before and after receiving feedback from City Council, has directed the Superintendent to revise the budget, cutting important items because of the lack of necessary funding. Last year, with the escalated cost of fuel, we delayed the purchase of much needed equipment and materials and transferred those funds to this line item.
Many school divisions requested additional funding from their governing body to meet this unforeseen budgetary item.
Realizing we are growing at a rapid pace, I believe we operate a very fiscally efficient school system. This growth automatically requires additional funding for new schools, renovations, staffing, equipment, materials, utilities, programs, and salaries.
Q. Is there anything else you would like to address or share with voters?
It has been my honor and pleasure to serve on the School Board the past four years. My extensive experiences that I gained while serving the Suffolk Public School system for 31 years and being a parent and grandparent have helped me to understand better what it takes to successfully educate our children and the role one School Board member can play.
When I served as principal, the school I served became part of me, and I always felt that whatever took place at the school – good or bad – was a reflection on my leadership. I tried always to recommend teachers for employment whom I would want my own children to have. I took much pride in doing the very best job that I knew how to do. I take my position as a School Board member very seriously, and I want the very best for the students in Suffolk Public Schools. If I am re-elected, I would continue to work for the Suffolk Public Schools using that same philosophy.