Column: Supervisor’s comments on school budget not totally in context

“I know the news media has a hard time with facts sometimes, but I think they ought to look into it before they just spout out the loudest noise,” South Anna Supervisor Wayne Hazzard said at last week’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

He was speaking at the end of Superintendent Dr. Jamelle Wilson’s presentation on the schools’ budget proposal.

Since an elected official chose to malign my professional integrity publicly, I feel I should defend myself.

To be clear, I have nothing against Mr. Hazzard. I’ve always trusted his heart is in the right place, and I forgive him in this instance. Life’s too short for grudges, and we all have bad days. Still, I can’t let his comments go unchallenged.

“Listening to the group back there in the backroom, in the booth, report that we’ve been cutting revenue to you for all these years, I’d like to go over a couple of revenue items, and maybe they’ll listen,” Hazzard said, with “the group” apparently referring to a Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter, a Mechanicsville Local reporter, and me.

Hazzard’s larger point was that Hanover County has not been shirking its fiscal responsibilities to the school system during the economic recession. The local contribution to the school budget is not declining, nor is the state’s. He is correct.

This is also not the only way of looking at things, as it lacks the full context of continually rising costs, such as health insurance, Virginia Retirement System, fuel, and utilities.

I’ve covered the School Board’s budget deliberations throughout the recession. Each year, they’ve had to find expenditures to cut to bridge shortfalls.

Beginning with 2009-10 and through the proposed 2013-14 budget, the Hanover school system has achieved expenditure reductions totaling $34.95 million. I got this number from the School Board Office as Dr. Wilson was first introducing her budget proposal in January.

This does not mean the bottom line has fallen $35 million. It means within the total budget, positions have been eliminated, the pupil-teacher ratio has increased, and other items have been reduced or eliminated. A portion of this is due to declining enrollment, and not all of it affects direct classroom instruction, but some of it does.

Groups of teachers, parents, and students feel some of those items and positions need to return. That’s a valid opinion.

Yes, doing so would require increasing the overall budget, and it would likely continue to swell each year. Whether those increases are merited is certainly worthy of public discussion.

It’s also a valid opinion to feel that the schools are already sufficiently funded. Neither side should be dismissed out of hand.

I don’t presume to know what the best answer is. I had a fine education in Hanover County Public Schools with larger student-teacher ratios, but I also predate the International Baccalaureate program and any number of state and federal mandates. Internet access wasn’t even essential until I got to college.

There are plenty of serious questions to consider, and the School Board did an excellent job listening to community concerns and considering all sorts of outside-the-box options. They understood that considering options does not necessarily mean becoming attached to those options.

When sizable groups start expressing their views to the School Board and Board of Supervisors, I’m obligated to let the rest of the community know that these are the views your public officials are hearing. If you disagree with those views, you need to contact your representatives to make sure your side is heard, too.

I trust that people are intelligent enough to consider differing viewpoints and form their own conclusions.

Reality is vast and complex. Anyone is welcome and encouraged to try to be perfect, but the whole “being human” thing will inevitably interfere.

By our nature, we each perceive a sliver of the total reality, but the key is that we each perceive a different sliver from a different angle. We’re all better off for sharing our unique experiences and opinions, and that’s why I share some of the opinions of speakers at public hearings.

I may very well make a mistake from time to time. I probably will. When I do, just tell me or H-P editor Lee Francis, and we’ll correct it. If I’m getting everything wrong, then I deserve to be fired.

So, there are no hard feelings, Mr. Hazzard.

Posted on Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 2:26 pm