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BCEA: Pollard should apologize

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Board chairman defends school budget funding

By John Barnhart

    Two representatives of the Bedford County Education Association (BCEA) used the citizen comment period of Monday night’s supervisors’ meeting to criticize remarks that District 6 Supervisor Annie Pollard made during a meeting last month.
    Pollard, at the supervisors’ April 22 meeting, had referred to some county teachers as “a bunch of crybabies.”
    Cheryl Sprouse, president of the BCEA, called Pollard’s comments “very unprofessional and inappropriate.”
    “How dare you call us a bunch of crybabies,” Sprouse said.
    Sprouse said the BCEA comes to the supervisors every year to lobby for more school funding because the supervisors hold the purse strings.
    “You owe the educators of Bedford County, all the educators, an apology,” she said.
    Sprouse urged Pollard to come to a school and spend a day.
    Dina Linkenhoker, a Staunton River Middle School teacher, chided Pollard for criticizing reporters for their coverage of the April 22 meeting and accused Pollard of berating teachers who took their concerns to the board of supervisors as constituents.
    “It’s your job to serve all your constituents,” she said.
    Pollard did not make any comments on the issue during the meeting.
    After the public comment section, Board Chairman Steve Arrington came down from his seat and stood in front of citizens attending the meeting.
    “I think I will speak to this tonight,” he said.
    Arrington said the budget process began on Jan. 4 when he met with the county’s constitutional officers. He noted that the supervisors have 70 cost centers that they must fund, with the school division being the largest of them. He said they face a number of funding challenges including building a new middle school, “ObamaCare,” federal regulations on storm water runoff and $2 million that the county must pay as its share of a new radio system.
    “I have a moral obligation to do the best with the dollars available,” Arrington said.
    Arrington said that when Dr. Douglas Schuch, the county’s superintendent of schools, Randy Hagler, the school division’s chief financial officer, and school board members attended the meeting at which the supervisors set the budget that they would advertise, he asked them if they had any problems with the budget. There was no comment.
    He also said that the amount in school funds the supervisors provided was only $300,000 less than what Dr. Schuch originally asked for. The budget included a $1 million set-aside for the new middle school that the county is obligated under its reversion contract with the city to build.
    “We did not cut the school budget by $3.5 million,” he said.
    Arrington said the school budget included a 3 percent raise for school employees plus a 2.4 percent raise to compensate for the employee contribution that public employees must make to the Virginia retirement system. The supervisors can only appropriate by category, not by line item, and Arrington said it’s up to the school board to decide what teachers’ market value is.
    “Last year we gave $2.5 million to the schools as a one-time appropriation.” Arrington added. He said this was given to plug a hole in the school budget left when federal stimulus money dried up.
    “I do not apologize for having the lowest real estate tax rate in the region,” Arrington said. “Nor do I apologize for not raising taxes.”
    The supervisors take heat from a number of sources. Arrington mentioned the 16 new school resource officers (SRO) that Sheriff Mike Brown requested for the county’s elementary schools. This would cost $850,000, although Arrington said that the figure would come close to $1.8 million when extra police cars and equipment are figured in. Arrington said that Sheriff Brown called their decision not to include the new SROs in the budget as irresponsible.
    “We need to look at that more carefully,” Arrington commented.