Guest Commentary: Board should revisit capital plan, technology, scheduling

Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 9:12 am

(Editor’s Note: These remarks were first delivered to the Hanover School Board during its Jan. 28 meeting.)

We’d like to commend the school board and division staff for meeting the school board’s budget goals and we would like to commend Dr. Wilson and the division staff for, once again, doing the best that can be done with the funds available – for reinstating 18 teaching positions (which is almost 10 percent of the 200 that we’ve constricted during the recent lean years), for the 2 percent salary increase, for covering the pension and health benefit costs, and for the additional funds for instructional materials. We do however, have three areas of concern: the five-year capital improvements plan, technology, and high school scheduling alignment.

First, in looking at past year’s plans, we have noticed that the FY 2014-2019 Long Range Capital Improvement Plan reflects a $55 million cut over the same plan from FY 2013-2018. All renovation plans have been eliminated in favor of a maintenance program costing an average of $3.5 million a year. With many school buildings over 50 years old, this does not seem sufficient to meet the expected needs.

With the formula of “average renovation and updating of school buildings is once every 30 years” in mind, Assistant Superintendent of Business and Operations David Myers has estimated the need for $180 million over the next 10 years. We urge this board to communicate these needs to the board of supervisors who has recently approved $44 million to replace a courthouse that is only 40 years old. A new courthouse is needed and we don’t argue this. However, our school buildings are in great need as well.

Secondly, we’re glad to see that the amount budgeted for technology has tripled. However, $1 million is less than $56 per student per year for technology with nothing allocated for instructional staff. Compare with surrounding divisions: Henrico has budgeted $22.1 million (with 49,000 students at over $450 per student) and Chesterfield $11.5 million (with 58,000 students at over $198 per student). Once again, the numbers do not add up if Hanover wants to claim that it is preparing students to learn and live in the 21st Century.

As it stands now, no monies have been budgeted for technology for instructional staff. Teachers need the tools to do their jobs. We agree with Hank Lowry, Ashland school board representative: We’ve got to start with teachers having a school-issued laptop with school-issued software. If staff are to be preparing 21st Century learners for the workplace, then staff need 21st technology to achieve this. Even if the $1 million budgeted were for the 1,800 teaching staff, then that only adds up to about $670 per teacher. This may get each instructor a laptop. However, this $1 million wouldn’t include anything for printers, projectors, software, or other “technology.”

Our third area of concern is the high school schedule alignment:

Again, we would like to thank you for reinstating 18 instructional positions – this is almost 10 percent of the 200 lost in the recent years. Thank you also for budgeting the 2 percent pay increase for teachers and covering health and pension costs. The salary increase will help make us competitive with surrounding districts, but we fear that having instructors teach six of eight periods will make us less competitive. Last winter we heard over and over again, especially at the secondary level where there is more attrition, that workloads had become unmanageable. Almost all HCPS high school teachers instruct six of eight courses and are responsible for student supervision in one half of a study hall period. Henrico and Chesterfield high school teachers instruct five of seven blocks and Richmond City does six of eight, but the sixth is a resource block.

We also understand that the schedule alignment was to have identical schedules at all four high schools; however, this does not seem to have happened. Atlee has a flex block every Wednesday, whereas Hanover and Patrick Henry have flex blocks every day of the week. In addition, the new schedule has pushed the first lunch period at some high schools to begin at 10:20 a.m. and lunch periods have decreased to 25 minutes from 30 minutes. John Axselle, Beaverdam school board representative, noted last meeting that income via purchased lunches has decreased. We have to wonder if “brunch” timing coupled with five fewer minutes does not encourage students to purchase lunch.

We thank Dr. Wilson and the school board for hearing our concerns and for their hard work on behalf of our schools.

Guest commentary submitted by the Friends of Hanover Schools Leadership Team: Randy Sherrod, president; Dr, Michelle Schmitt, vice-president; Cathy Easter, treasurer; and Rachel Levy, secretary; and Kathy Abbott, Ashland community organizer.

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