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My name is Dina Linkenhoker and I am president of the Bedford County Education Association. The following is an open letter to Mr. John Barnhart following his editorial published on February 10, 2010.
I wonder, now that the Bedford County Public School Board is contemplating the adoption of a budget plan that would cut $6 million, lose two schools and cut 124 full-time employees, would he accuse anyone of “whining?” His editorial was a slap in the face to the students and the parents who may be dealing with having their schools close, not to mention those of us who may find themselves among the newest ranks of the unemployed. Similarly, his editorial also failed to note the fact that Bedford County Public Schools’ remaining employees will face salary reductions as health care premiums, retirement contributions, and other cost of living expenses continue to rise.
The Bedford County Public Schools’ current budget proposal is a response to statewide cuts forecasting a local shortfall of more than $6 million. As I write this, the General Assembly is considering further cuts that would make that figure look like a drop in the bucket. Governor Bob McDonnell stated that he will not honor former Governor Tim Kaine’s freeze on reductions to education funding. According to the Virginia Education Association, this decision could lead to an additional 30,000 educators being eliminated as well as more school closings, higher class sizes, fewer programs, shrinking resources – the list goes on and on.
The local composite index demonstrates that both the city and county of Bedford are able to fund education at a level that is higher than it currently does. Though some people might argue against the formula, the fact is that our real estate values have not dropped nearly as much as those to the north and the east. Growth in our county, particularly near the lake as well as in the Forest area, continues without sufficient contributions to fund local schools.
It is lamentable that the governing body of our school division does not have the power to raise revenue to fund education in Bedford County. Rather than asking 124 people to shoulder the cuts in their entirety, it’s time for the rest of our community to step up -together. It is unrealistic to expect that this situation to be remedied by budget cuts only. While we are tightening our individual and collective belts, we need to contact our state lawmakers and communicate that they need to enable us to fulfill our responsibility to educate the students of Bedford County. At the same time, we need our local legislators to institute a sales tax for the sole purpose of funding schools and helping to preserve the quality of educational services to our county’s children.
Mr. Barnhart owes an apology to educators throughout our county, our commonwealth and our country for his misguided view of what it means to serve our nation’s children. He owes our community an apology for treating such serious issues as education, budget cuts, school closings and unemployment in such a flippant manner. But most of all, he should offer an apology to the children for writing an editorial which sanctions robbing them of the educational opportunities they so desperately need and so richly deserve.
President, Bedford County Education Association
As someone who was born and raised in Bedford County, I know that one of the most unpopular terms of profanity in our community is the word “taxes,” but I simply cannot stand idly by while the government of this county completely wrecks its education system because it’s too stubborn to do what needs to be done: raise taxes.
Now, obviously nobody likes the thought of paying higher taxes. Nobody. But with ghastly funding cuts that will most certainly impair if not ruin the quality of education students in Bedford County receive, somebody has to face the facts and realize that we’ve cut and cut and cut, and still they tell us there is not enough money. So instead of doing the sensible thing and bringing in more revenue, we’re facing closing two very close-knit elementary schools, cutting 30 elementary school teaching positions and 15 middle school teaching positions, and those cuts are just a start.
All of this could be avoided by everybody just pitching in a tiny bit more. Bedford County already has an incredibly low tax rate compared to most of its surrounding areas, so it’s not like there would be a mass exodus of residents and businesses if the rate was increased; even just a 1 percent increase would bring in much-needed revenue to help eliminate this funding crisis.
Students in our school system need our schools to be equalizing environments where they are guaranteed that if they work hard, they will be successful. But this is simply going to be a fallacy if our class sizes are increased more than they already have been, our teachers’ work-loads multiplied due to lack of support personnel, and frankly, our employee morale flushed down the toilet. With more and more state and federal funding based on higher and higher test scores, how are we to keep up with those demands if we’re bursting at the seams with students who will be underserved and are much more likely to fall through the cracks?
Some have said that the county government should run like the American family has to: don’t spend what you don’t have. But I argue that our specific school system has run efficiently and below cost for years, and how are we being rewarded? Losing our jobs and closing our schools! Teachers make up the difference in funding out of their own pockets many times, making sure our students don’t lack supplies, books, or even more basic essentials like food and clothing. When families can’t provide, our teachers do, and certainly not because their salaries are so sky-high that they’re rolling in extra cash, but because teachers understand the importance of teamwork and pitching in to help, even if it’s not their direct responsibility.
Maybe the county government should run like the households who support it, after all. Yes, cut frivolous spending, but I dare you to find much of that within our school system. But just like any family whose budget is too tight to be feasible, the county should do like the rest of us who have had to take on an extra job or two: find a way to bring in more revenue. Bedford County needs each and every single person who is employed by its schools; no single employee is expendable; no one’s education is expendable; no child is expendable. Bedford County only raises taxes “once in a blue moon.” Well, there’s a blue-moon rising, folks. It’s time. How many students will have to suffer before we see it?
Kristina J. Karnes
Teacher, Staunton River Middle School
We should have seen this coming
The Economy is deteriorating as you can see, but we should have seen this coming. We should not sit back and think that our country or our lawmakers or the government has our best interests at hand. Bedford County and the School Board should have seen the budget cuts coming years ago and started cutting back in increments every year opposed to having to jump off of a cliff with an $8 million change.
I am being affected by these changes in multiple ways; my kids will be uprooted from Body Camp, and moved to another, and one of my family members will be praying that she has a job in the school system next year to provide for her children and family. I can’t imagine those of you that are being affected worse than I, because it seems bad enough.
I do not really know what the school board members or the superintendent or assistant superintendent do, but is it really worth the money paid? All of us feel as if we are more valuable in our positions that what we are getting paid. Why do the teachers and staff always have to sacrifice their pay, and the school board employees or the superintendent do not. $140,000 dollars a year is a lot to me; More than I paid for my home, car, and clothing my four children put together. As noticed in the budget, the superintendent received a 3.5 percent raise when the teachers were on a pay freeze. They are the ones doing the hard and impacting work for our kids everyday.
This is not a bashing of the superintendent: They are trying to cut the expenses but are treating the people that those expenses impact like candy that dissolves and that the way that these decisions they are making and the way they affect us will go away. They are not going to go away; they will only get worse. The schools will only continue to grow as the population grows, and the school buildings are not going to get any bigger unless more money is spent when they could utilize the schools and buildings that are already in their possession and working efficiently.
Why is the school board paying to get fiber optic run to through the county to each school when we cannot afford to keep the teachers that would utilize it? Is it truly a necessity? They already have high speed Internet. Do we have to have separate school buses for each route, high school and elementary? I didn’t when I was growing up. We had our problems on the bus, but that is what the bus driver is there for to nip the problems in the bud, or report them to higher authority if it can not be resolved.
There are a million of ideas that can be found throughout our community for budget cuts, but unless we as a community team together to voice them and the county and school board actually take them to heart and listen rather than just letting us vent to closed minds and ears then we are going to remain in the same situation that we are finding ourselves in now.
Body Camp PTA Member
After reading Mr. Barnhart’s “opinion” article titled, “This should make everybody mad,” I was quite amused. It’s great to see that in this age of a recession, that the Bulletin is adding a comic to its staff. Most people’s opinion is based on some facts. What is he basing his opinion on?
In the paragraph that discusses the teacher salary scale, he comments that Bedford’s teachers are “closing in on $50,000 midway on the pay scale.” Our teachers don’t eclipse that mark until the 29th year of teaching. That would be one year before they can retire. How is that “midway”? How many college graduates that you know in the business world take that many years to make $50,000?
Some people will say that teachers aren’t in the business world. That is not a true statement either. The business and political world is what is controlling our budget and the cuts that are going along with it.
Mr. Barnhart also states that our law enforcement officers’ salaries don’t start as high as teachers. While they are underpaid as well, two wrongs don’t make a right. They also aren’t required to have a four year degree where well over $60,000 or $70,000 was spent on a teaching degree. No teacher has a three month layoff in the summer, and law enforcement officers get vacation time as well. Police officers do put their life on the line for us everyday, but how quickly you must have forgotten about the Columbine tragedy and other similar incidents that are occurring more and more frequently in school systems. Since your opinion must be fact based, how many police officers are dying in the line of duty compared to our nation’s teachers? Let me know when you find this truth. I would venture to guess that they aren’t too far off.
In another paragraph that is completely false, he states that athletics don’t belong in the high schools and that should be the first part of the budget that should be cut. I have done my research on this part of his opinion and let me give the facts. Students that participate in sports have a higher grade point average than those who don’t. In fact, their G.P.A. is higher while participating than when not. These students are the ones that give our school leadership, purpose and direction. Students that go home every day after school are the dropouts and discipline problems. They are the ones that have less than a 2.0 GPA while our extra curricular students have a GPA greater than 2.6. Over 28 percent of one high school’s population in our county that didn’t participate in extracurricular activities had less than a 2.0 GPA compared to less than 5 percent of the athletes. These are facts Mr. Barnhart, not an uninformed opinion. Sports are helping them excel in school, continue their education, and get a decent job – not the other way around.
He wants to eliminate our guidance counselors. How can you honestly blame them for “a host of school tragedies across the country?”
Does he have time to personally meet with 250 people every week to discuss their problems? Our counselors do a tremendous job when they are alerted to student issues that need to be addressed. Our schools are always looking for mentors for our students. Maybe he would like to volunteer his time and help out in this area since he is so quick to blame them for those tragedies. Our state of Virginia mandates the number of counselors according to the size of the student body. Bedford County has no control over this and they cannot be eliminated. This is another one of his opinions that carries no weight.
Many people unfortunately take Mr. Barnhart’s opinion as gospel. If our students wrote the same article that he did, they would surely receive an “F” for not citing sources that helped form their opinion. I will take his article with an informed grain of salt and congratulate the Bedford Bulletin for becoming a “funny paper.”
“Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe”--H.G. Wells
As a died in the wool capitalist, I hesitate to use Socialist thought, but with that quote, I begin my rebuttal to Mr. Barnhart and to his poorly conceived attempt at agitation and attention to your column. Like him, I consider myself conservative; I do not, however, place my exclusive allegiance within the narrow confines of any particular political party.
Education is one barrier preventing me from fitting within the framework of the Republican Party. Much like certain left-leaning “fair” and “affordable” housing acts were conceived to fail, bringing with that failure the current blight on many of the American lending institutions, the Republican insistence on accountability through testing nonsense (i.e., No Child Left Behind) is a program whose number one goal is a failure of such monumental proportion as to bring down the educational system as we know it. In fact, without the dog chasing his tail approach to testing, remediation, retesting, etc. that his political persuasion endorses, those guidance counselors of which he speaks so glowingly might actually have time to provide guidance instead of testing support. If he doesn’t recognize the need for positive role models, career advisers, and an adult with which to talk, then he needs to be enlightened to the lifestyles to which many of these children are exposed. That sentiment is not coming from a bleeding heart mind you.
In large part, it was not with his logic I found dispute but with his presentation and tone. Tax hikes are not the answer in these troubled economic times, although much of that trouble is sensationalized and politicized nonsense forcing knee jerk, real world results like the loss of jobs many will face. Cuts are necessary, because, much like any other arm of the American political machine, school systems have become bloated and too top-heavy to sustain themselves. However, the tone directed toward the cogs within the systemic wheel is not only unnecessary, but it is reckless during this unprecedented time of apathy and disdain for all things authoritative in nature.
Many students do not have respect for what their teachers represent (knowledge, responsibility, leadership, etc.), because their parents harbor some misguided feelings toward those “intellectuals” that distance themselves from true “hard work.” His quip about taking a second job to make ends meet is laughable and is presented in a way that only a handful of teachers have recently chosen that route. The myth of the teacher that works nine months and spends the rest of the time “summering” at the coast is a joke. I would not want to appear as “whining” to use his term, but his facts are a bit off when he speaks of $50,000 being “midway” up the pay scale. I’m not going to argue his social worker or law enforcement point for the same reason I don’t fight with my students for still being disciplined when student X did the same thing and didn’t happen to get caught. If an action is wrong, then it’s wrong; both fields deserve better, but why is knocking me down the means by which to achieve that goal?
Taking the chance of “looking bad” to dirt-under-your-fingernails, private sector working stiffs such as Mr. Barnhart, let’s take a look at my workload. I’m not ashamed, as it appears I should be according to his finger pointing, to say that I teach for a living. In addition, I coach two sports at the high school level extending my day until between 6:30 and 11 at night, I administer standardized testing four Saturdays a year, offer baseball lessons on evenings and weekends, teach summer remediation, help run a baseball camp in the summer, and I run a 35 mile paper route 365 days of the year from 2:45 - 4:30 am.
I do all of this for under $45,000 a year and have never once asked you to “cough up more tax money”. In fact, I believe the BCEA asked not for pay raises as much as they asked to unfreeze the pay step and cost of living increases that have been customary for some time now, although I am neither a union sympathizer nor a member for that matter. I plug another organization if asked that provides litigation insurance, which is more than necessary during the times in which we live, without the left-wing political affiliations.
Finally, I would like to take issue with his being picked last in gym class look at organized athletics. Apparently, there were those amongst the powers that be a few years back that shared his suspicions until the data was crunched at their request to reveal the GPA gap between those that participated in extracurricular athletics and those that did not. The dumb jock “chasing a ball around a field” idea was quickly squashed. In addition, please consider the cost to society both in a correctional sense and lost productivity due to lack of team building / leadership skills if sports were not present in many a young person’s life. The activities, or lack there of, that would fill the void would not contribute to the building of respect, dedication, achievement, commitment, family, nor would it provide valuable lessons on overcoming adversities or shortcomings.
This letter was not only written from the perspective of a Bedford County educator, but I am a proud graduate of Liberty High School, a parent of a child in the Bedford County school system, and perhaps most importantly a fellow tax payer. Again, tough decisions not only will be made, but they should be. However, his rambling, facts on the fringe attempt to satirize the teacher, coach and counselor was way off target. In fact, if it were any more void of substance, it would have been written by Rick Howell.
About the lottery
Brenda Pagett’s letter to the editor on February 3 contained some questions about the Virginia Lottery which we are happy to answer.
By law, all Virginia Lottery profits are required to go to K-12 public education in the Commonwealth. In Fiscal Year 2009, those profits totaled $439.1 million statewide. Those funds are then distributed to school districts statewide by Virginia’s Department of Education. According to DOE, Bedford County Schools is receiving $3,180,091 in Lottery funds this year.
It is very important to note that Lottery funds were never intended to be the sole funding for Virginia’s public schools. In fact, Lottery funding is only about 7 percent of the total budget for public education in Virginia. We at the Lottery are very proud of what we help raise for education in the Commonwealth, but the majority of funding comes from other sources.
You can find a lot of good information available about the Lottery by visiting www.valottery.com or e-mailing us at email@example.com. We appreciate the opportunity to provide the facts.