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Opportunity lost

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    Last week the Bedford County School Board voted to spend an additional $750,000 to hire seven more teachers to help with secondary school programs as well as eight teachers to work in schools that are currently Accredited with Warning.
    Those appear to be needed areas to shore up some trouble spots in the system.
    But the board failed to come up with an additional $25,000 for the 2013-2014 budget ($50,000 in years after that) to provide six more spots at the Central Virginia Governor’s School this upcoming year; 12 new spots in the years following. In a $106 million budget, the board should have been able to find those funds.
    Currently Bedford County has 40 spots at CVGS (20 juniors and 20 seniors) as well as 17 spots at the Roanoke Valley Governor’s School. Each spot costs the school system around $4,300. By the board’s own admission, there are always waiting lists for students wanting to get one of those spots. So why not provide more, since the spots were offered?
    CVGS is hoping to expand its program, so it opened up the additional spots in an effort to hire another science teacher. Originally the thought was Lynchburg and Bedford County would split those spots, but Lynchburg chose not to take its allotment. All the better for Bedford—more spots for our county’s students to take.
    But the board didn’t see it that way. In fact, at least one board member said there’s always going to be a waiting list—even if the new spots were added—so why bother adding more?
    But why not add more slots and give more students a chance to participate—especially in light of the waiting list?
    That seems like a reasonable choice. But a majority of the board didn’t agree.
    Yes, it’s vital that the school system shore up its areas of concern, especially in math. But it’s also important to give those students seeking additional educational challenges that opportunity as well. That’s what the governor’s schools are designed to do. That was a line item that the board micro-managed last week to the detriment of a number of students.
    In the midst of the past several years of cuts to the budget, the school system has already eliminated a Central Office position that served as a gifted coordinator; now those duties have been merged to an employee with a number of other duties. In addition, while the county’s Advanced Placement program has grown over the past several years—due in part to a grant that provided financial incentives for both teachers and students—those numbers may begin to falter as the initial incentives are now going away.
    But not all was bad.
    One positive step the board took was to include $48,000 to help pick up a portion of the cost students are paying to attend the Early College program through Central Virginia Community College. In that program as many as 48 students (24 juniors and 24 seniors) take college classes, earning an associate’s degree in college while also earning credits for their high school diploma. The school system was on the cutting edge of getting that program started and then, several years ago, inexplicably cut ties with any financing of the program. That seems a bit unfair, seeing as how the school system rakes in thousands of dollars of state funds while those students are on the school rolls, even though many aren’t attending any classes at the base high schools.
    There’s no doubt, additional funds are needed to help struggling students. But as the board makes its decisions, it should also consider taking advantage of the opportunities it's presented to challenge the high-achievers.
    At least one of the opportunities has now needlessly fallen by the wayside.