Some IOW supervisors ready to cut school budgetPublished 9:38am Wednesday, April 3, 2013
BY STEPHEN H. COWLES/CONTRIBUTING WRITER
ISLE OF WIGHT—Three of the five Isle of Wight County supervisors are wondering how the board will be able to fund what the county school board is asking for in its fiscal year 2013-14 budget.
Two of those three members are ready to make cuts themselves.
Last Thursday, the school board unanimously adopted a $63.5 million budget with the expectation the county would fund $32.6 million.
Smithfield District Supervisor Al Casteen said the supervisors have requested every county department make a five percent reduction in their budgets. Instead, he added, there’s an eight percent increase in the school’s total budget from the current fiscal year.
“Last year we asked for a flat budget and they ignored us. Now they want $32.6 million. We can’t do that. I just don’t feel like we have the money,” said Casteen.
He noted the supervisors just managed to not raise the tax rate last year. But to fund what the school board is asking now would ultimately be passed along to taxpayers, he said, adding, “It’s somewhat discouraging that they’ve ignored us two years in a row.”
“I’ve got a feeling the rest of the board is with me,” continued Casteen. “We’ll just gut it for them. I think we’ll do it by categorical funding.”
Windsor District Supervisor Delores “Dee Dee” Darden is in agreement.
“I really think we’re going to have to make some budget cuts,” said she. “Unless we categorically fund the school board, it’s the only way to keep the budget in line.”
Darden explained that method would require the schools to come to the supervisors for permission to move money around or justify changes in how it’s used.
“The school board has lost focus. There’s more emphasis on technology than people,” she added.
As an example, Darden noted that there are no pay raises for teachers in the proposed budget. She said teachers are telling her they’re making much less than a year ago and even five years ago.
While Darden acknowledged the state-mandated Virginia Retirement System has taken a bite out of their paychecks, nonetheless, “We should keep our teachers adequately paid for what they do,” she said.
Darden also recognized the need for the school system to be up to date in terms of technology and textbooks, but she added she’s gotten many phone calls and emails from parents quite upset by the effect of the iPad initiative. They’re seeing their children’s grades going down because they’re not focusing on their lessons, and instead are using the iPads for other things.
“It’s something that needs to be revisited,” said Darden. “It was a great experiment, but we need to refocus our efforts on the teaching.”
When contacted, Carrsville District Supervisor Rex Alphin said he still had to go through the budget details.
Of what he knows so far, “It’s an ambitious request. I certainly understand their goals to better Isle of Wight schools,” said Alphin. “As far as our role is concerned, it’s to provide the best education.”
Praising the county’s teachers, he wants to see them get a raise, which he knows is not included in the school budget.
“They do a wonderful job. Teaching is one of the highest callings, and we should send a message to that effect,” said he, adding that teachers are “increasingly asked to do more with less.”
Alphin said he has talked with School Superintendent Katrise Perera and School Board Chairman Robert Eley.
“I realize they’re doing what they can, and I applaud it. But I don’t know how we can fund their budget without revenue raising,” he said. “I’d like to do whatever we can.”
“We’ve some huge challenges ahead,” continued Alphin, adding the schools are not the only “piece of the pie.” He noted the supervisors also have to consider law enforcement and general services, such as increases in costs and needs for water and sewer.
Board Chairwoman JoAnn Hall of the Hardy District and Vice Chairman Byron Bailey of the Newport District could not be reached for comment.