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IW supervisors urged to fully fund schools

ISLE OF WIGHT

Twenty-three people urged the county’s Board of Supervisors to fully fund Isle of Wight County Schools’ requested local contribution to its proposed 2018-2019 school year budget. This took place on Thursday during a public hearing on the county’s proposed budget for next fiscal year.

Isle of Wight County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton has proposed a $62.7 million operating budget for the coming school year, of which $26.4 million would come from the county. The proposed local funding amounts to an increase of $994,300 over what the county had allocated to the school division at the beginning of the current fiscal year.

The division’s priority general fund expenditures proposed for FY 2018-2019 include raises for teachers, hiring four new teachers, purchasing new career and technical education instructional materials, providing instructional assistants with a 10-percent raise and a new entry-level salary of $12.55 per hour, additional funding for school field trips, a 5-percent raise for school nurses, a 13.92-percent raise and new starting salary of $13.50 per hour for school bus drivers, and an increase in debt service. Also included in the division’s proposed budget is funding for a new integrated arts curriculum at Carrsville Elementary School, which would result in all students in grades K-5 receiving 25 minutes per day of violin instruction.

Of the 23 who spoke in favor of funding the division’s proposed budget, 14 were IWCS officials and employees.

“We have an average of 36 students in our classrooms,” said Tiffany Kiser, a sixth grade teacher at Georgie D. Tyler Middle School. “Our building has room to grow but we don’t have the staff.”

Several speakers highlighted the connection between new housing developments being built in the northern end of the county and the resulting student population increase they would bring once complete.

“We moved to the area about two years ago, we did a lot of research and most was based on a school system for our daughter,” said Robert Manners of Carrollton. “We looked at Yorktown, we looked at Poquoson and everybody said you’ve got to go to Isle of Wight. Just in the last year we’ve been living here, we’ve noticed a huge increase in population.”

While no one spoke against the division’s local funding request, Herb DeGroft of Smithfield urged the supervisors not to feel guilty if they found themselves unable to fully fund every line item the division had proposed. He also urged them to pursue cost savings by eliminating duplication in county and school division offices.

“You’ve always given enough money for schools to operate, it’s the schools’ job to use that effectively,” DeGroft said.

The other matter of contention concerning the budget that drew comments during the hearing was the county’s proposal to change its budgeting process for funding repairs to volunteer fire and rescue department vehicles.

“Rather than giving them the funding that had been provided in the past, the county administrator had suggested we provide funding for maintenance for their vehicles and anything above that, if they have a major repair, they simply take the vehicle to a repair shop and send the bill directly to the county,” Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson explained. “Rather than putting that money in their budgets, we would pay the bill on their behalf.”

Rushmere VFD Chief Brandon Jefferson expressed concerns that funding vehicle repairs this way could result in more of the cost being passed onto taxpayers than what would be necessary if the funding for major repairs remained in the hands of each individual volunteer department.

He explained that the fire and rescue vehicles that are purchased by the county are also insured by the county through the Virginia Association of Counties. VACO, he said, sometimes only pays a percentage of the cost to repair or replace a vehicle, whereas under the insurance policy used by each individual department, repairs and replacements would be covered 100 percent.

“Let’s say I wreck my firetruck, if it’s insured through the county, you may have to go to the taxpayers to replace the truck,” Jefferson said. “I don’t think that’s very cost effective.”

He also criticized the county for not informing the various volunteer departments or the Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Association of its plans to change how the departments were funded until after it had already included the change in its draft FY 2018-2019 budget.

“From talking to other fire chiefs, nobody knew about it, that’s bad business,” he said. “I can’t think of any issues we’ve had with maintenance or not managing our budgets properly. We take pride in our apparatus. I don’t see a reason why we would change that now.”

Jefferson’s concerns were seconded by Fred Mitchell of the Carrollton VFD.

“They [the volunteers] lose part of their budget, at the same time we’re building a larger county government,” he said. “When government grows, taxpayers lose.”

Smithfield District Supervisor Dick Grice seemed persuaded by the volunteers’ arguments.

“Right now, I’m almost inclined to say lets leave it alone, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it,” he said. “I don’t disagree with [the change in funding] but we don’t have buy-in [from the volunteers] and until we have buy-in we’re causing dissension that negatively impacts the citizens of this community. We need these volunteers and I applaud them every day.”

The county’s volunteer fire and EMS departments will be further discussed during the supervisors’ work session on Thursday, Aug. 2. However, the budget will be put to a vote before that date. The vote is scheduled for Thursday, May 10.