MONTGOMERY COUNTY – The proposed 2024-25 Montgomery County School Board calendar is heading back to committee after discussion at the regular Montgomery County School Board meeting Tuesday, Feb. 6.
James Lyons, of Christiansburg, spoke to the board concerning the school calendar and the calendar committee, of which he is a member.
“My concerns are about two of the changes that were made without our approval, or even our consent with it. First has to do with changing the weeklong spring break. We were given a directive to try to fit that in around Easter and then it was moved to coincide I believe at the end of third quarter, which coincides with Tech and Radford’s spring break,” Lyons said.
Lyons said that there are many reasons that he believes it is not a good idea to schedule spring break at the same time as the local universities but did not state what they were during the meeting.
Additionally, Lyons said that he agrees that a 180-calendar year for students is a great idea. He asked that the committee be allowed to continue to reassess and make changes to the calendar before it is decided on.
MCPS Board discussed the concerns of having a weeklong spring break and the impact it has on getting students back on track after a lengthy break. Board members also examined reducing the number of teacher workdays or moving a teacher workday to create more balanced non-instructional days for teachers. Additionally, School Board Member Jamie Bond shared concerns about starting the school year a day earlier on August 12, 2024.
The Board decided to send their top choice of the two calendar options back to the committee for further changes, with parameters of what they have discussed.
Blacksburg teacher and resident Glen Chilcote shared concerns for the FY 2024-25 MCPS proposed budget, which may still be many months from a final decision.
“I’ve been doing this long enough now to know that the Board of Supervisors will probably give us less than what we’re asking for,” Chilcote said. “They always do. So, if we don’t get what we need, what then?”
Chilcote did not wish to see additional healthcare costs added to Montgomery County School employees that might take away from the 5% proposed that he feels is “so deserved.”
Bob Beard of Christiansburg echoed thoughts of the loss of learning that the 180-calendar year for MCPS is trying to address as a good idea.
During the business portion of the business meeting, Dr. Bernard Bragen gave the Superintendent report.
National School Counseling Week was first on Bragen’s agenda, which occurs Feb. 5- 9 this year. The school board unanimously voted to approve acknowledgment of this national week of attention to the importance of counseling for our students.
Auburn Middle School teacher Philip Ashby has applied and been accepted into the Virginia Space Grant Consortium by the Institute of Competitive Sciences. His classes will be competing in the Plant the Moon challenge. The program encourages students to imagine the habitation of the moon and Mars, considering necessary accommodations for explorers to safely live in space. More information about the program can be found at www.planthemoon.com
“To enhance the instruction he was doing in his technology class, he became aware of a grant that was mostly related in northern Virginia, but they didn’t have enough recipients to complete it, so he applied,” Bragen said. “When he applied, he got accepted, and now our students are going to be competing in this nationwide activity. It’s something we should be very proud of.”
Bragen was very impressed by the excitement of the children when he made a recent visit to Auburn Middle School while they conducted a rocket experiment.
Auburn High School also wishes to develop an eSports arena for this fast-growing and popular electronic team sport. The Blacksburg High School also currently has a team as well and Bragen feels that this is an important opportunity to offer to County students. A supplemental appropriation had been included on the agenda for approval of $40,000.
“Over 600 colleges offer teams as well as scholarships,” Bragen said. “It is a humongous trend globally.”
“I think it’s going to be a wonderful opportunity for our students; however, as we are in the middle of budget and we know that our support staff is not compensated as they should be, and that we may be trying to put extra burden on our employees with the healthcare plan, I think we should hold off on this and put this money towards our budget,” Board member Penny Franklin said.
“If I could just clarify that these are capital appropriations and the capital funds are already designated to capital that we couldn’t improve in our, we couldn’t put them in our operating budget,” Board Chair Linwood Hudson said.
“Okay, so, let’s put it somewhere else in the budget with capital,” Franklin said.
Jamie Bond voted yes on eSports’ appropriations of funds. Bond said that it is important to provide opportunities for all students in the county with a variety of extracurricular activities. Dana Partin felt that the use of capital funds for student activities would be appropriate since it cannot be used for other specific things in the operating budget and voted yes as well.
The funds were approved with only one nay from Franklin.
Additionally, current before and after care programs for elementary schools in the County has given notice that they will stop offering services. Heart and Hand Early Development Center has been selected from a committee after a broad search and review of submitted bids. Heart and Hand offered the most affordable option and happened to also be a local business, Bragen said.
A supplemental appropriation of $60,000 for Eastern Montgomery’s track facility has been unanimously approved. The Board was very excited about this approval and voiced their consent readily that this was a long time coming.
In new business, the Board agreed that a future discussion should happen surrounding cell phone usage in the county’s school system.
“I think it is incumbent on this district to take up this issue,” Board member Edward Gitre said.
Partin agreed with this suggestion and felt that illegal activity and social media issues happening at the hands of students with cell phones has been a problem for some time.