Body Camp Elementary joins Bedford Primary School as proposed cuts to balance school budget

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By Tom Wilmoth

Last Thursday the Bedford County School Board got its first look at a proposed budget from Schools Superintendent Dr. Douglas Schuch and at least one board member was surprised at what he saw.

    “This is very frustrating to me,” stated District 2 board member Dave Vaden.
    Vaden’s comments stemmed from a proposal by Dr. Schuch to close down Body Camp Elementary School while beginning a brand new virtual learning program in the high schools. “We had a consensus on where that line (on budget cuts) was and now it’s changed,” he said of the proposal to close the school, which he thought would not happen. “I think we have misled the board of supervisors. Body Camp was not even a discussion on the table.”
    The comments came during a five-hour budget work session held by the school board prior to  its regular meeting Thursday. This was the first time the board had been presented a detailed budget to review. Among the earlier proposals considered by the school board was closing Bedford Primary School  and  making  Bedford Elementary  a K-5 school with that school’s sixth graders moving over to Bedford Middle School. The proposal to close Body Camp Elementary would be to split that school’s students between Huddleston and Moneta Elementary schools.
    “We face a daunting challenge in preparing our students to be productive and responsible citizens in our community and in the world, amidst the fiscal restraints caused by the recent recession,” Dr. Schuch stated Thursday. “I know we will rise to meet this challenge, because of our common dedication to our students and their future.”
    He said he believes the students at Body Camp can be better served by being consolidated into the other two schools.
    “I’m just totally caught off guard,” stated District 3 board member Brad Whorley about the proposal to close Body Camp.
    Dr. Schuch said the budget proposal recognized the limited funds available while starting the school division down “a path of innovation as we begin transforming teaching and learning to include technology-based blended learning environments for our students.”
    But the extent of that blended learning proposal faced opposition, and cuts, from the board as it reviewed the plan.
    Initially, that proposal to establish a virtual learning experience for high school students had a price tag of about $1 million in new spending, but board members quickly proposed cutting that back to about $300,000.
    “I don’t think we can afford that,” Vaden said of the proposal to set up the online program at all of the high schools and at the Bedford Science and Technology Center.
    Several board members suggested cutting the implementation of the program back to one pilot school with the goal of expanding it in following years.
    Dr. Mac Duis, the school system’s director of instruction, told the board that taking classes online is a skill set high school students need to learn to be ready for college. He said some school systems are requiring students to take an online class before graduating.
    “I think we have to start it,” Board chairwoman Debbie Hoback said of the blended learning program.
    Dr. Schuch said the overall budget proposal was guided by previous discussion by the board as well as an attempt to align the budget with the school system’s mission, vision, goals and strategies.
    Dr. Schuch’s proposal calls for a total of 67 positions to be eliminated from the school system. Seven of those would be teaching positions with the majority of the positions representing reductions in support staff, counselors, aides, custodians, bus drivers, secretaries and bookkeepers. He said this will be the fourth consecutive year of major workforce reductions for the BCPS, including a reduction of 16 in 2008-09, 33.5 in 2009-10 and 70 in 2010-11.
    In addition to closing both Bedford Primary School and Body Camp Elementary School, the proposal would eliminate the county’s driver’s education behind-the-wheel program and B-team sports.
    In an effort to alleviate fears that Bedford Elementary would be overcrowded under the proposal to close the Primary School, Dr. Schuch said the school system is proposing eliminating students from being able to transfer into the school from another school zone. That would take the school population down by about 75 students next year, reducing the number of students to about 550, if combined with BPS.
    The school board will vote on a new school zone transfer policy in April.
    “There are a lot of questions out there about how this is going to work,” Hoback stated about closing Bedford Primary. “Those concerns are now becoming anxieties.”
    The rising cost of health care insurance and fuel still remain an unknown for the budget, Dr. Schuch pointed out. He added that the budget does not include raises or bonuses for school employees for the third consecutive year. “I do believe that we need to make teacher and staff compensation a major priority as soon as we can,” he said.
    The budget proposal is based upon receiving additional funds from the state, following the General Assembly’s budget amendments passed earlier this year, as well as an additional $1.1 million of funding from Bedford County.
    “I feel that this budget represents a significant turning point for Bedford County Public Schools, as we boldly define our commitment to our students and their future, as well as the changes that need to occur to our organization in order to prepare our students for the world they will face when they leave us,” Dr. Schuch stated.