Culpeper County School Board: Little relief to reduce class size

Extra chairs had to be brought into the conference room for the public hearing, Talk About Budget (TAB), held by the Culpeper County Public School Board on Tuesday evening. Although it was packed with interested bystanders, only one person spoke to the Board during this time. Faith Dickerson (West Fairfax), attendance secretary at Eastern View High School, related the stress and strain of teachers having crowded classrooms. She said, “It is hard for teachers to do what they need to do.” Stating that she would prefer the budget be directed to smaller classes on the secondary level over a pay increase, she said, “Pay would involve me, but smaller class size would benefit everyone.”

CCPS Budget Analyst Lauren Thomas presented the Approved Annual 2014-2015 Annual Budget for Board members to use as a reference to be used in the decision-making process and a learning tool for those recently elected. Packed with lots of information on guidelines and summaries, the comprehensive document can be accessed on the district’s web page (www.culpeperschools.org).
Several board members expressed their gratitude on the details provided by Thomas. But after seeing the status of the current budget, newly elected Chairperson Elizabeth Hutchins said, “I think it is sad–very. very sad. I don’t see any [available funds] for classroom [size] reduction.” She indicated that one problem was that so many things were mandated and not funded by legislation that it placed an “excessive burden on staff.”

Those in attendance were most interested in Superintendent Dr. Bobbi Johnson’s presentation on the FY 16 budget. She gave a summary on the recent community survey conducted by CCPS. There were 423 responses to the survey, half were identified as district employees. Johnson indicated that this was not surprising as the district is the largest employer in Culpeper.

There were four parts to the survey asking where budget funding should be given; what current programs should be protected; what programs or services should be eliminated; and open comments. The top three essential and critical points if there is an increase in funding would be increased staff compensation; increased means of monitoring safety; and increased level of technology. The top three areas to maintain if there is a decrease in budget funds are current employee compensation; provision of a salary step increase; and the arts.

Johnson responded to some of the comments made by those taking the survey regarding the elimination of programs and services. While the preschool program does take space, the cost per student is very low. It was suggested that families pay for transportation, but Johnson said it was not legal in Virginia to charge for transportation. Some suggested to eliminate high school courses with low enrollment, but the superintendent said that these courses were either conducted to build interest or accommodate highly advanced students with their schedules.

Johnson’s report showed examples of programs eliminated from FY09-FY15 which included cutting the Latin program and after school remediation. Her proposed additions included a beginning teacher salary of $39,000; an increase in routine maintenance; a school improvement coordinator to alleviate the added duties of those currently handling responsibilities dictated by the state mandated process; and three possibly secondary classroom positions. These additions total $1,577,373, but with a proposed savings and reduction plan, the estimated need would be $1,121,984.

Alice Felts is a freelance contributor with the Culpeper Times. You may reach her at alicerfelts@gmail.com