Windsor Middle School survives

Published 7:43 pm Wednesday, March 31, 2010

ISLE OF WIGHT—With little discussion, the Isle of Wight County School Board approved a $59.3 million spending plan this week that will keep Windsor Middle School open next school year.

“There was a lot of community support for that school,” said Kenneth Bunch, who represents the Carrsville District on the School Board. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to fully fund it for years to come.”

A draft version of the budget earlier this month called for closing the school and sending its students to Carrsville Elementary and Windsor High School, prompting protests from parents and students.

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While spending will decrease more than 3 percent from the current year’s budget, the approved budget is a much different document from Superintendent Michael McPherson’s original proposal. The budget approved by the General Assembly earlier this month wasn’t as brutal as school officials had feared earlier this year.

While some vacant positions will go unfilled, the budget doesn’t require layoffs, according to Katherine Goff, a spokeswoman for the school division.

“At this point, the budget does not call for any actively employed people to lose their positions,” she said.

The board approved the budget by a margin of 4-1, with Hardy District representative Herb DeGroft casting the dissenting vote.

Stephanie Bailey, president of the Isle of Wight Education Association, said a tough budget is a test of the School Board’s members.

“It’s easy to spend a lot of money, but let me see what you do when you’re spending a little bit of money,” she said. “You can’t regress education.”

She added: “The budget might look OK today, but that doesn’t mean it’ll hold.”

The approved budget assumes level funding from the county of about $26 million. If the Board of Supervisors reduces its contribution, the School Board will have to go back and consider additional cuts to balance the budget, Goff said.

The board unanimously agreed to authorize Chairman David Goodrich to send a letter to Board of Supervisors Chairman Phillip Bradshaw requesting a meeting of the boards’ finance committees before their scheduled April meetings.

“The two finance committees need to sit down and look at what each of us have got and look for ways that we can improve government efficiencies,” Bunch said.

DeGroft said the meeting is “a good move.” He also said the board needs to start planning for the next budget cycle now.

“We know what the potential is for the 2011-12 budget to be even significantly more difficult than this one,” he said. “While Virginia’s economy might start to turn around, and the U.S.’s economy might, Isle of Wight County has got a tough road ahead.”

After a short closed session, the board unanimously approved a motion for its finance committee to propose combining the county’s and the school division’s human resources departments and the construction of joint vehicle maintenance facilities.

The subject of shared services has been a source of contention between the School Board and the Board of Supervisors, with the latter pushing for it and members of the former questioning the potential cost savings.

However, Goodrich said the School Board believed it was time to “put that on the table.”

“We’ve had discussions that would indicate that now might be the time to propose that,” he said after the meeting.