IW schools seek more money

Published 9:20 pm Monday, April 1, 2013

By Stephen H. Cowles

Special to the News-Herald

Isle of Wight taxpayers could face a 12-cent tax increase if the Board of Supervisors approves a request from the School Board for $32.6 million next year.

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The School Board on Thursday voted unanimously to approve a $63.5-million operating budget for fiscal year 2013-‘14. It was one of three options on the table for the board.

One of those options was to approve a $61.6-million budget that would have required up to 65 job losses and a week’s worth of furloughs for all remaining employees. Another option would have resulted in a slightly higher budget number than the one that was finally approved.

“The teacher and assistant cuts will be felt,” said Laura Abel, assistant superintendent for Curriculum/Instruction and Administration. “We could continue to move forward. But I can’t minimize the impact cuts would have on classrooms.”

“We cannot afford to cut teachers. We owe it to our children to keep the good teachers we have,” said Windsor District member Julia Perkins. Several people in the audience murmured, ‘Thank you.’

“I won’t even discuss option three, it’s not in my book,” Newport District member Kent Hildebrand said on learning that no teaching jobs would be lost with the first two plans. He later made the motion for the board to adopt option two and eliminate the auto shop class at Smithfield High School.

The school budget asks for $32.6 million from the county. That, one of the board members said, could mean a 12-cent increase in the tax rate.

The school system also budgeted $25.6 million from the state, and $4.2 million in federal aid.

Financial Services Manager Christina Berta outlined student activity fees to make up for state revenue losses. These charges would apply to art, band, chorus, drama, lockers, JROTC, high school student parking and physical education and would raise $67,890. Athletic fees could also create more revenue.

Hildebrand defended the proposed fees as a way to show the county’s Board of Supervisors that the school system is “taking proactive steps.”

The board’s decision came after an hour and a half of discussion. Earlier, the county courtroom had been overflowing with parents, teachers and staff to speak about the budget.

“I don’t think the board is ready to vote on the budget,” said Isle of Wight Education Association President Stephanie Bailey. “There’s nothing in it for teachers.”

Perkins later said salary increases “just did not seem a possibility.”

Aaron Millikin, who has a child at Westside Elementary School in Smithfield, said he believes the schools are doing “the best they can with the money they have.” He urged people to pick up their phones and call or “get in front of the supervisors” to support the board’s proposed budget.