CHRISTIANSBURG – The Montgomery County School Board acknowledged difficult choices are ahead in how they will operate the county’s public school system on a much less-than-anticipated budget during their regular meeting on Tuesday, May 2.
The discussion was in the wake of the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors’ announcement that the schools will receive approximately 4.5 million dollars less than requested by the county’s school board.
Dr. Bernard Bragen, Jr., Superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools, explained the county school’s request from the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors for $6.1 million additional funds this year was a result of much thought, and with the recommendation of their staff. An initial proposed $0.73 real estate tax rate per $100 assessed value would have allowed for the schools to receive a $4 million increase. The Board of Supervisors then made the decision, in a 4-3 split vote, to pass a $0.70 real estate tax rate, therefore reducing the county’s funding increase to the schools to approximately $2.4 million for the upcoming fiscal year. This is in addition to another loss of state appropriated funds to all Virginia schools, because of a calculation error discovered by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) announced earlier this year.
“They also chose to move away from the money that was allocated to help correct that calculation error by the Department of Education. So that final increase for us comes out to about $1.1 million and that is not enough to do what we need to do,” Bragen said. “There will have to be hard decisions to make and difficult choices that we will bring to this board at our next meeting.”
Chris Thomas, a citizen addressing the board during public comment, described the shortage of funds as “the biggest tax cut in our tax history” and a “blatant disregard” for citizens’ strong opposition, including county teachers, to the real estate tax reduction of $0.70 that resulted in a decreased budget.
“Members of the boards, parents, and citizens of Montgomery County, you should all be furious,” said Thomas. “The Montgomery County Board of Supervisors justified ignoring their own constituents, just because they’re teachers. They openly and on the record stated that they did not give weight to the letters, the calls, and the emails they received because they came from teachers.”
Later in the meeting, school board members held an open discussion, allowing each member to have an opportunity to express reactions to the funding decision and plans to move forward.
Board member Penny Franklin, who attended and addressed the supervisors in the prior meeting that ended in the vote for budget approval, shared conflicted feelings concerning the supervisors’ motives in their vote.
“There was a lot of passion as to making sure that the schools would be funded,” Franklin said, adding, “if you were an employee of MCPS, you really didn’t matter, as far as your contact and your input about the budget for this county. The vast majority of employees in Montgomery County Schools live in Montgomery County and pay taxes too . . . that decision that was made the other night, I also believe, was made out of spite because there are some things that this board has done that they don’t like.”
School board member Jamie Bond expressed that increased community education and awareness of how tax revenues impact citizens’ services might be needed moving forward.
“You want that fire and rescue there at your house as soon as you need them,” said Bond. “You want those schools. You want those stadiums. You want those teams for your kids to play on. You want the best teachers for them. You can’t have it without the extra tax, or the taxes that are appropriate.”
A joint meeting with the county supervisors was proposed by Franklin.
“We have not had a joint meeting with the supervisors in probably a year or more,” she said. “Those conversations need to begin again.”
Behavioral issues at Christiansburg Middle School were addressed during citizen comment by Desiree Smith, of Christiansburg. Increasing concerns of aggressive and suggested illegal behavior by students at CMS has and continues to occur, and went unaddressed by the school’s administration, according to Smith. In new business, Board Member Dana Partin echoed the concerns about Christiansburg Middle School’s recent heightened behavioral concerns, citing citizens that have continually contacted her. The board agreed to receive updates on the ongoing situation at the school.
In other news shared at the meeting, the first of a series of community listening events called Tea with Dr. B was held at Auburn High School on May 3. The next event will occur at Blacksburg High School on May 10 at 3:15 pm, with locations and dates changing with each superintendent’s appearance.
The Special Education Plan was approved in a 7-0 vote, with a motion by Marti Graham and seconded by Franklin.
The school board also approved in a 7-0 vote, the revision updates to 5-1.7 of the Fraud and Abuse Whistleblower Protection policy, with a motion by Graham and seconded by Franklin.
In a special presentation at the meeting, Shane Guynn was selected as the MCPS Instructional Leader of the Year. Guynn serves as an Assistant Principal at Christiansburg High School. Jamie Warren was selected as the MCPS Operational Leader of the Year and serves as the Electrical and Plumbing Lead in the Facilities Department.
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