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Montgomery County officials urged to satisfy schools
After a tumultuous year in 2012, next year’s budget request is even 4.6 percent higher.
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
CHRISTIANSBURG — A line of speakers on Monday again urged Montgomery County officials to fund the school system’s budget request, saying they would back a real estate tax increase to pay for it.
“Protect the future of this county by protecting the schools. … Underfunded schools can continue to try, but they can’t do as well as schools that are fully funded,” Chris Jordan of Blacksburg told county supervisors.
Monday’s supervisors meeting featured a formal presentation of the school system’s proposed $96 million operating budget for next year. The request is 4.6 percent higher than this year’s budget and would require about $3.5 million in new county funding, equivalent to a 5-cent increase in the real estate tax rate.
Last year, Montgomery County raised its real estate tax rate to 87 cents per $100 of assessed value, the largest jump that county officials could recall. Most of the new revenue went to pay the debt on ongoing construction of two high schools and renovation of a middle school, however, and schools left about two dozen teaching and other positions vacant to make ends meet.
“Last year’s budget was primarily about capital investment,” Tom Zuckerwar of Riner said during the meeting’s public address period. “This year’s is primarily about funding operations.”
All seven speakers during the public address period asked the supervisors to give the schools the full amount of the school proposal.
The supervisors must eventually set a total figure for the schools budget as part of the county’s overall spending plan. They gave little indication Monday about whether they would support increased funding.
Supervisor Chris Tuck was the most vocal, questioning schools Superintendent Brenda Blackburn about an array of spending concerns, and noting that schools would need something closer to $1 million in new county money if the school board approved some of the contingency plans Blackburn has already made for a tighter budget.
Blackburn said she made her contingency plans public so that residents and the school board could start thinking about what the schools would have to do if less money is approved.
“I wish I were standing in front of you with a balanced budget, but I am not,” Blackburn said, referring to the additional money the schools are requesting from the county this year. “And I’m not going to apologize. … I know you recognize an investment in our youth makes a powerful statement.”
School board Chairman Wendell Jones told supervisors that the duties of the school system are hard to quantify. Beyond offering a quality education, the schools may provide the only food some students receive, Jones said. “The school they attended today was probably the only warm place they have. The school they attended today may be the only place they saw a smile. It may be the only place they saw positive encouragement for a job well done,” he said.
Saying he rejected accusations of wasteful spending, Jones told supervisors they should set an example. “We need to become a shining light in the rest of the state and say we’re going to think about educating our children” rather than putting money into road- or prison-building, Jones said.
In the public address section, Jim O’Dowd of Blacksburg said that the Save Our Schools group, formed by residents who are worried about Montgomery County, was lobbying legislators for more state support. “I don’t know if it’ll do any good but we certainly intend to keep up the pressure,” O’Dowd said.
Connie Froggatt of Blacksburg said that some Blacksburg High School students could not get into certain classes during this academic year because there were not enough teachers.
“Public education is not an entitlement,” Froggatt said. “It is an investment. … The only way we’re going to meet this budget is with some kind of tax increase, and I think we need to start talking about that now.”
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