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IW supervisors grant extra funds to schools

Published 10:55am Friday, April 26, 2013

BY STEPHEN H. COWLES/CONTRIBUTING WRITER
Playback58@gmail.com

ISLE OF WIGHT—Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors unanimously granted $676,201 to the county school system on Thursday morning. That amount, said School Superintendent Katrise Perera, would enable her department to finish out the school year. The money didn’t come without comment first. Chairwoman JoAnn Hall of the Hardy District, for one, had something to say.

Reading from prepared remarks, Hall said she called the emergency assembly in response to the board’s meeting on April 18. She said that when the $750,000 was granted to the schools then, the board was under the impression that money would last at least through May.

Christina Berta, acting Chief Financial Officer for the schools, had requested last week $2.3 million in carryover funds from fiscal year 2012-13. A motion on the supervisors’ side to grant $1.4 million was defeated, with the $750,000 finally given as a compromise.

“All of were caught blindsided,” Hall said about the response both by the school system and the public. For example, the school board held an emergency meeting early Monday morning on how to keep the schools open with the money allotted.

After reviewing the situation, Perera that day was given the authority to cancel contracts for landscaping and purchase orders, stop or reduce custodial services, reduce all employee pay with one to 12 furlough days, and reduce the number of kindergarten aides as of Wednesday, May 1. All that was contingent on what the supervisors would do next.

On Monday evening, members of both boards answered questions about the budget situation from parents and teachers at The Smithfield Center.

“Call me naïve, and perhaps I am, but we need to do what’s necessary so our children can continue their education without any more turmoil,” said Hall on Thursday. “But I’m not so naïve about politics.”

Specifically, she said the schools have been held hostage with the threat of cuts, furloughs and schools closing early. “It makes me sick,” Hall said.

She later said that if she were a businessman and saw in the newspapers what was going on in Isle of Wight, “there’s no way I’d come here.”

She added that her daughter said her teachers have told the girl the school situation is Hall’s fault.

Turning to the proposed $63.5 million budget for fiscal year 2013-14, the chairwoman said the school board needs to come up with a different plan.

“There’s no way we can do a 22-cent tax hike. Even a flat budget from last year is optimistic,” Hall said. She added that while technology can be great, it’s an extravagance when compared to other needs.

“Let’s see some common sense,” Hall said about the budget.

“It’s been a tough week for all of us, and we need to make amends to the children,” said Supervisor Delores “Dee Dee” Darden of the Windsor District. She added she was “tired of the games and being manipulated by the school superintendent and board.”

“We’ve lost focus on the children and what’s important,” she said, adding that she doesn’t want to see the kindergarten aides, for example, lose their jobs.

Supervisor Byron Bailey of the Newport District said he didn’t want to “cast aspersions” on anyone of the school board, adding praise to Herb DeGroft as “one of the smartest men I know.”

Bailey called for categorical funding in the school budget, which he said would prevent the shortfall from ever repeating, and “so we know each and every teacher and aide gets paid.”

Supervisor Al Casteen said he shared Hall’s sense of frustration, and like other board members has gotten a large number of phone calls from residents.

“People felt like victims in the process and their hands were tied to comment publicly,” said Casteen, adding that if categorical funding had been adapted last year, the shortfall wouldn’t have occurred.

He also said he was “disgusted” that teachers and others were “used as pawns to get more money. I regret schools are punishing teachers, aides and students.”

“I lament it has come to this,” said Supervisor Rex Alphin of the Carrsville District. “I lament there have been a lot of rumors and innuendoes.”

Alphin called the situation “fairly adversarial,” but added, “We do have great schools.”

Budget and Finance Director Michael Terry for the county said April payroll has been made and May will be met.

DeGroft said his fellow board members will “take a hard look” at 2013-14 and anything that’s not focused on students.

Hall asked for assurance there would be no layoffs if the money’s granted.

“Absolutely,” Perera said.

With that, the vote was made and then the meeting adjourned.

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