CHRISTIANSBURG – Annie Whitaker, Ed.D. Deputy Superintendent for Operations, presented the county’s approach to the budget reduction during the school board’s work session meeting on Tuesday night.
The difference in funding needs that the public schools had to address totaled just over 4.5 million dollars, according to information Whittaker shared with the board during the meeting.
Some of the goals presented as most important to the school district in reorganizing and re-prioritizing the FY 2023-24 budget are to minimize impact to students by maintaining a pupil to teacher ratio, utilize attrition to reduce staffing, and focus on building level management of staff assigned to schools.
Some of the items that are proposed to remain in the budget and receive funding will be four athletic trainers, an additional preschool class at Auburn Elementary school, a 5% raise and salary corrections for individual staff, and an increased custodial staff of four positions. A more detailed description of the budget update presentation, including the school nutrition budget, can be found on the school website in the meeting’s agenda documents at mcps.org in board docs.
Proposed cuts to the budget include funding for student school supplies, paying for educator license fees, division cell phones for non-emergency personnel, and a change to employee contribution to health insurance premiums. Additionally, along with other reductions in staffing and teaching positions, 6.5 central office positions are proposed to be eliminated.
“There’s not a whole lot of confidentiality if we are publishing it to the entire audience of MCPS about what’s going to happen,” board member Sue Kass said. “I would feel awful, if I was that person who had one of those jobs and everybody in the public was sitting there listening and finding out, not at the same time, but knowing that the public was going to hear about this at a public-school meeting.”
“I think that’s fair,” Bragen said. “I thought we were discussing that in closed session this evening with the specificity that we were asked to bring back.”
A vote of 4-2 by board members, with Penny Franklin and Mark Cherbaka opposed, postponed further determination of the budget’s outcome until a June 6 school board meeting.
A few citizens addressed the board with concerns in the MCPS school system during the public address portion of the meeting.
Jenna Nichols, a Christiansburg resident, spoke about continued concerns of aggression and bullying at the local Christiansburg Middle School that she felt is not being appropriately managed by administration.
Glen Chilcote, of Blacksburg, represented the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) as the current president of the organization with a term ending in August, in his address to the board Tuesday night. Of the recommendations he brought to the MCPS board, Chilcote explained how teachers and staff have not been receiving their full steps in the salary scale based on years of experience, in addition to the hopes that they would also receive a raise this year.
“Step 15 with a 5% raise is now step 16. So, you don’t go to that next step,” Chilcote said. “It is really frustrating that I can’t do a good job and get a raise.”
Other concerns shared with the school board reflected frustration that financial shortcuts to the schools now will create continued economic shortfalls in future years.
“After the Board of Supervisors cuts your funding, they’ll tell themselves that they’ve successfully lowered the cost of education to Montgomery County taxpayers and the school board may do with those reduced cuts, so clearly the six or so million dollars shortfall you will be facing was actually money you were going to just waste,” Christopher Thomas, of Christiansburg, said.
Dr. Bernard Bragen, MCPS Superintendent, updated the school board and community with a few comments. Recently, the superintendent attended the retirement dinner for the school’s employees. The event was hosted at the Virginia Tech Inn and the superintendent recognized the Human Resource team, along with Melodie Cox and Danny Knott, for their efforts in organizing this special event. According to Bragen, the dedication of the employees in the years of service and support they have provided to the county’s public schools will leave experience that will take time to fill.
“It totaled 1,022.5 years of service and when you think about that number, I know as superintendent, it kind of frightens me, because it’s going to take us a really long time to hire people of that caliber, with that level of expertise, to work with our young people,” Bragen said. “Teaching is an art and a science, and it takes many years to perfect it.”
Montgomery County Public Schools’ high school graduations are scheduled for this weekend. Eastern Montgomery High School graduation was held Friday, May 19 at 6 p.m. On Saturday, May 20, Blacksburg High School is at 9 a.m., Christiansburg High School will happen at 1 p.m., and Auburn High School is scheduled for 4 p.m.