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In response to a fifth consecutive year of multimillion-dollar budget shortfalls, numerous supporters of Hanover County Public Schools—parents, teachers, and students—showed up at the Board of Supervisors’ Jan. 23 meeting seeking restoration of funding.
The current $188.7 million budget proposal for 2013-14 closes a $5.4 million funding gap, which would bring the expenditure reductions to nearly $35 million over a five-year period. The cumulative figure represents about 18 percent of the 2013-14 proposal.
The supervisors had no school-related items on their agenda. However, every meeting includes a “Citizens Time” segment when people may address the board on any topic that is not on the agenda. Typically, this period draws one or two speakers, at most. On Wednesday, 24 people participated. Among them, 22 speakers urged to supervisors to find more revenue for the school system. Many more supporters listened in the audience, not even a full 24 hours after roughly 200 people packed the School Board’s budget public hearing to express the same concerns.
Some speakers specifically asked the supervisors to raise their real estate tax rates, especially since housing assessments have declined in recent years.
“Unfortunately, Hanover has lost some outstanding educators, and schools are forced to have fundraisers for basic needs. As the Board of Supervisors, you can prevent this, but you must act now,” said Bettiann Aylor, a teacher and Cold Harbor District resident.
She and other speakers noted that Hanover County ranks among the lowest localities in Virginia for per-pupil expenditures, despite its large size.
A report dated March 2012 on the Va. Department of Education website shows that Hanover spent $8,899 per pupil at the time.
The state average was $10,793, with Orange County spending the least at $8,325 and the City of Alexandria spending the most at $18,349.
Daniel Chen, a Hanover High School student, lamented the “lack of technological resources available” at his school.
“To use 2003 Microsoft Office as a teaching program at the high school level in this time and age works against your goal of providing competitive students and scholars to pursue higher education,” he said.
Dave Keeney, a Chickahominy District resident who described himself as a fiscal conservative, said he was “ashamed at how drastically under-compensated our teachers are.”
“As the Hanover Board of Supervisors, it is your job to find a way to reverse these school budget cuts so that our Hanover students can receive the education that not only do they deserve, but it is a core responsibility of our government to provide,” Keeney added.
Amy Faires, a middle school teacher and Henry District resident, said her classroom has seats for 31 students—a first.
“Adding just one student more to any classroom has the potential to dramatically change it,” she said.
Faires said of the budget cuts, “Believe me, we’ve felt them. … We’ve rallied and maintained, but again, enough is enough.”
Laurie O’Toole, a Chickahominy District resident, said, “I am willing to see a modest increase in my real estate taxes in order to preserve the quality of education and the quality of life in Hanover County. Without these changes, our ability to attract new businesses and new residents would be diminished.”
She also criticized the supervisors’ vote late last year to repeal Hanover’s cash proffer policy. “I do not believe the consequences of these actions were fully researched before this action was taken,” she said. “This action should not have been taken when our revenues are down in the county.”
Rachel Levy, an Ashland District resident, said, “There has been a slow and steady disinvestment in our schools. …
“Since 2009, we have seen class sizes rise and positions get cut. We have seen school faculty, administration and staff given way more responsibilities than is reasonable to ask them.”
She added, “I would wager that we and other parents have contributed far more in the way of fees and contributions than we would have were our taxes a little bit higher.”
Daniel Bartels, a Hanover High School teacher for 10 years, said Hanover taxpayers have already invested about a half-million dollars in him over his career. He founded Hanover High’s robotics program and helped establish it at Lee-Davis and Patrick Henry high schools.
“I am one of the teachers that is likely to leave because of the changes that are proposed. I just can’t do it anymore,” he said.
He referred to the school system’s plans to extend high school schedules to eight class periods, with teachers instructing six classes at no extra compensation. They currently teach five of seven periods.
Bartels said he taught six classes one year for a pay boost, and it wasn’t worth it.
“It was too much. I couldn’t be the teacher I wanted to be. I couldn’t be the teacher my students needed me to be. I couldn’t spend the time with my family that I needed to spend.
“I spend sometimes more time with your kids than I spend with my kids. And to ask me to do just even a little bit more is more than I’ve got to give,” he said.
Bartels said that since he is not a Hanover County resident, he would not request a tax increase, but a solution needs to be found.
“There is probably a solution out there. It might not be obvious, but let’s all get together from different sides of the political fence and figure this thing out, because the changes that are proposed are not a good thing for our students,” he concluded.
Two speakers opposed any notion of a tax increase. One was Scott Dailey, a South Anna District resident.
Dailey said there were many residents not present that evening who would not want their taxes raised.
“I don’t think asking our teachers and our education system to tighten the belt a little bit, to help us get through this economic uncertainty we’re going through, is unreasonable. …
“I thank the Board of Supervisors for being good stewards of taxpayer money and for looking for ways to bridge this budget gap without coming to the easy solution, and that is take more money from taxpayers,” Dailey said.