Hanover students protest plans to cut testing reimbursements, charge for extracurriculars

Posted on Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 4:56 pm

Hanover County students want the school system to continue reimbursing testing fees for International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement exams.

Several high school students visited the School Board’s Feb. 12 meeting to discuss this and other issues related to the $188.7 million budget proposed for the 2013-14 school year.

The AP and IB organizations charge exam fees in the neighborhood of $100 per test. Hanover County Public Schools has reimbursed these fees for students who perform strongly on the tests.

To help close a $5.4 million shortfall, the 2013-14 budget proposes eliminating those reimbursements. The students say this would make these academically rigorous programs unfeasible to many of their peers and to younger generations, especially to children of single-parent households.

Students also spoke out against concepts board members have begun exploring that are not part of any formal proposal. One is a “pay-to-participate” scenario in which students would be charged a fee to participate in extracurricular activities (see related story on A-1), and the other idea brought up contemplated consolidating the IB program into two of the four high schools.

Both of these concepts are merely points of discussion as board members look for ways to mitigate the proposed reduction of 24 teaching positions. Board members are gathering information on these and other ideas.

Hanover High School students Anthony Smith and Daniel Chen conducted a survey of 66 teachers at their school and presented the data to the board. The survey addressed technology needs and use of teacher planning time.

Chen said that according to the results, most teachers use their planning time for parent communication and out-of-class instruction to struggling students. Teachers also go beyond their job description by helping students with scholarship and college application essays, he told the board.

Tara Ruff, a Patrick Henry junior, said she has had to acquire a job in order to participate in the extracurricular activities she enjoys.

“I did that gladly. For school sports to be pay-to-play, that would be utterly ridiculous, and the team sizes would drop dramatically, because I know I’m not the only one who wouldn’t have the money to pay for it,” she said.

Katie Grimesey spoke about how the IB testing reimbursements has made the difference for her and her family.

“It hurts me to think that there could be future students who won’t be able to work to their full potential because of something like money,” she said.

“IB has been invaluable to me,” Lee-Davis senior Rachel Culpeper said.

Eliminating the reimbursement fees or consolidating the IB program would “have the potential to harm students’ education, and the toll falls chiefly on the smartest students,” she added.

Lee-Davis senior Rachel Delaney said, “I’ve participated on the track and field team for the past four years and can attest to the fact that sports, for the most part, are already not free. Paying for trips and purchasing equipment adds up. …

“The pay-to-play option would act as a deterrent to students and parents and is a policy that would favor students with more money.”

Students presented petitions opposing both the pay-to-participate proposal and the elimination of testing reimbursements.

In all, nine Hanover County Public Schools students spoke Tuesday night. Additionally, four Hanover teens attending Maggie Walker Governor’s School urged the board to continue supporting their school.

Several adults addressed the board, too, including Liberty Middle School teacher Randy Wright, who asked the board to advocate raising local taxes to provide more funding to education.

Wright said that people need to be conservative at the national level if they understand the U.S. Constitution, but they also need to be liberal at the local level if they understand the Constitution and the needs of the community.

Chickahominy board member Bob Hundley commented about the pay-to-participate option. If the board ultimately did decide to pursue this, it would not be rushed through a speedy process.

“These are just questions at this point,” he said. “I would see us doing multiple community meetings, if we were going to go that direction. I would see us coming up with some sort of a plan that people could wrap their arms around and take into the community so that we get feedback.”

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