Isle of Wight County budget draws mixed reaction

Published 9:29 am Monday, April 25, 2022

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Isle of Wight County’s proposed $88.9 million 2022-23 budget drew a mix of praise and criticism at an April 21 public hearing.

The budget, which County Administrator Randy Keaton presented earlier this month, leaves Isle of Wight’s car tax at the new, lowered rate of $3,90 per $100 in value, and leaves all other tax rates unchanged. Residents on the county’s water system, however, can expect to see a 56-cent increase in the price per 1,000 gallons.

The proposed budget includes $27.2 million in local funding for Isle of Wight County Schools. The nearly $527,000, or 1.97%, increase over the county’s current local contribution is intended to fund several testing coordinator positions, which school officials say will free up guidance counselors to spend less time proctoring Virginia’s Standards of Learning tests and more time counseling students. It does not, however, include the school system’s requested funding to place a permanent school resource officer in each of the county’s five elementary schools.

Candice Phelps, a counselor at Smithfield High School, urged Isle of Wight supervisors to approve the presented budget, particularly the funding for the testing coordinators.

“When I first started working in Isle of Wight County, testing needs were drastically reduced compared to what they are now,” Phelps said. “Testing and … other added responsibilities being put on school counselors take away valuable time that could be spent focusing on building relationships with families and increasing student outcomes.”

Angela Gibson, the mother of a Smithfield High School student, also urged support for the budget, and specifically the testing coordinators.

Carrsville-area resident Volpe Boykin, however, urged the supervisors to not give “one dollar of county taxpayer money” beyond the minimum local contribution required by the state until  school officials “give a detailed accounting” to show that it’s “not being spent on anything that’s in violation” of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive order banning “divisive concepts, including Critical Race Theory” from public schools.

For nearly a year, a group of county residents have accused the members of Isle of Wight’s School Board and Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton of bringing Critical Race Theory, which argues American laws and institutions have perpetuated inequalities among minority groups, into the school system via diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. While school officials have denied CRT, as it’s often abbreviated, is being taught, critics have pointed to Smithfield High School’s “Read Woke” challenge, which encourages students to read social justice-themed books, as evidence of CRT’s perceived influence.

“As far as I know, they are still paying $82,000 to an equity and inclusion coordinator,” Boykin said, referring to the school system’s hiring of Kiyaana Cox-Jones last year.

Shelly Perry of Smithfield echoed Boykin’s sentiment, taking specific issue with plans the school system discussed earlier this year for a $410,000 renovation of the girls and boys bathrooms in Smithfield High School’s lobby that would transform them into one combined gender-neutral facility for the benefit of LGBT students.

“There’s been a lot of spending that should not be spent and a lot of talk about things that don’t need to be talked about … there’s gentlemen and there’s ladies in this room, that’s all there is,” Perry said.

Adoption of the proposed operating and capital budgets is slated for May 12.