Tuesday night, citizens had the opportunity to openly express their concerns to school officials at a question and answer forum organized by the local, education-based organization, Friends of Hanover Schools.
A large concern for a number of residents was the reduction of a large portion of funds in the Capital Improvement Plan earmarked for four, extensive elementary school renovations. Randy Sherrod, president of FOHS, asked school officials if removing those renovations from the budget would impact the infrastructure.
David Myers, assistant superintendent of business and operations, said that it would not because the proposed $24.7 million, five-year plan calls for continuous and routine maintenance.
“We’ve replaced that with very targeted, needed repairs,” Myers said.
Some of those repairs include kitchen and bathroom upgrades, window replacements and roof repairs that total $20 million, he said.
But despite the reassurance from school officials, Rachel Levy, the secretary of FOHS, did not understand when the division’s larger school maintenance issues would be solved.
“I’m not satisfied because when are we going to address [the buildings that are 70 and 80 years old]?” Levy asked the school officials.
Levy said she’s concerned with what will happen if all the buildings need to be fixed at once.
Hank Lowry Jr., Ashland District school board member, said communication between officials and administration and teachers is key to knowing what needs to be fixed.
“We should try to create a culture where the principals feel comfortable to say something,” Lowry said.
He added that their existing maintenance solution is sustainable and, compared to 2012, there was not a specific plan for maintenance. Lowry said the current detailed and funded plan has specific deadlines of when tasks will be accomplished.
Citizens also expressed concerns over whether teachers have the necessary technology to teach in their classrooms.
“We’re worried about teachers having the tools they need to do their job,” Sherrod said.
Myers said the school division is discussing giving teachers their own devices, like laptops.
Kay Loving, who also attended the forum, used to work for Hanover County Public Schools and now works in Caroline County schools. She said that every teacher there has one.
“I think every teacher should have one,” Loving said.
Lowry said he is pushing for action to take place as soon as possible and is hoping teachers would have laptops in the next three months, but he said he does not know if it’ll be possible that soon.
Citizens were also worried about whether classroom technology like smart boards would be supplied to instructors in the current budget.
Christina Leggett, a concerned parent and a teacher, said her child attends Cool Springs Elementary and only a few classrooms have smart boards.
“I’m disgusted,” she said.
The issue of student access to technology – both at school and at home – also came up. In response, Myers discussed his previous work experience in both the Chesterfield and Henrico school divisions. He said that in both school systems, he had to implement a program giving each student a technology device to work on at school and home.
But Myers said the issue is that even if students have technology at school, they may not have Internet at home. Also he said that if students have computers they can bring home, they often break. That was the case in Henrico, where 20 percent of the computers issued to students broke.
“We are trying to be judicious about what the real advantages are regarding to technology outside the school,” Myers said.
Individuals also expressed concerns over the air quality of schools like Patrick Henry High School. Myers said that specific mold situation has been taken care of at this point. The school hired an independent group to go in and test the air quality and then clean the building and fill it with new air. He said the whole process cost $120,000.
“I hope you’ve seen a marked difference at Patrick Henry,” he said.
Myers said the same mold issue exists at Lee-Davis High School and he hopes to get the same group to perform the procedure at that building this summer.
Although the Friends of Hanover Schools organized and hosted the forum, School Board Chairman Bob L. Hundley Jr., Chickahominy District representative, said that more open discussions like Tuesday’s will occur. This comes after citizens have called on the school board to hold more town hall-style meetings as a way to better connect with school officials.