More than words are needed

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The Bedford County Board of Supervisors took a stand last week with the School Board’s adopted budget: Change your mind about closing any schools or forget about getting an extra $1.1 million in additional county funding.

    The message was clear and the School Board was set to meet Tuesday to reconsider its decision to close Bedford Primary School. If it doesn’t, and it loses the extra county funding, it’s likely two schools would close, not just one. Body Camp Elementary would likely face the chopping block if the school system doesn’t get the extra money.
    And there might be other repercussions. The city of Bedford has hinted it could challenge the decision to close BPS in court, citing wording in its school contract with the county that a three-year notice is needed before the school can be closed. In addition, the city might even rethink its decision to revert to town status. That could cost the school system millions of dollars over the next several years, because by adding the city students into the county, more state funds would come to the county because of the way the state funding formula for education works.
    While the supervisors can’t control the way the school system spends its funds from the county, the fact is the county leaders do ultimately control the purse strings. That became very evident last week as the war of words and threats were unleashed at the School Board, and more pointedly at School Superintendent Dr. Douglas Schuch. Quite frankly, some of the words thrown out were unproductive, doing little more than stirring up ill feelings between the two boards. Discussion can be constructive; name calling isn’t.
    That being said, the words have been spoken and now the supervisors must be willing to stand behind them. If the county leaders intend to stick to their guns on this issue that no county schools should be closed, then they need to be willing to back that up with more than words: funding must follow.
    And we’re not just talking about the $1.1 million they’ve threatened to withhold.
    The supervisors must be willing to do more.
    • If Bedford Primary is to remain open, then the supervisors must be willing to immediately release funds to build a gymnasium there. It is the only county school without a gym and it’s only fair to the students there that one be built. The supervisors need only to jog their memories back a couple of years about how, at least some of their members, questioned the wisdom of building a gymnasium at a school that would be closed in a few years. The fact is the School Board had set aside funds to build that gym—along with new office space at Staunton River High School—from money leftover from the construction projects at Jefferson Forest High School and SRHS. A working committee made up of School Board and Board of Supervisors representatives and staff put the plans for the gym on hold after the long-term plans of the school system were released, plans that included closing BPS. The office space work was completed; the gym was never built, after it had been promised.
    • The supervisors must also work with the School Board in establishing a sooner-than-later timeline to construct a new middle school in the Liberty zone. Currently sixth graders in the Liberty zone are left at their feeder elementary schools instead of receiving the middle school experience and benefits provided for their peers in the JF and SR zones. The supervisors must be willing to ante up the funds for that new school.
    • Finally, the supervisors need to get the city-to-town reversion agreement finalized with the city of Bedford. This agreement, once in place, would mean an immediate infusion of new state funds for the school system, funds that are desperately needed.
    Words won’t be enough; actions must follow.