School board to keep Bedford Primary open, sort of

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By John Barnhart

Bedford County's school board is sticking with a plan to move the K-2 students from Bedford Primary School to Bedford Elementary School.

A Tuesday night called work session of the school board began with a lengthy closed door session. When they emerged, School Board Chairman Debbie Hoback announced that the consensus of the school board was to keep Bedford Primary school open. However, it's not going to be kept open as a primary school. It will only be used for an existing pre-school program there.

Although the meeting was held at Bedford Science and Technology Center, the school board used the school's cramped conference room. Enough citizens turned out that the room was packed and, as a result, Hoback was immediately confronted by a trio of angry parents when she stood up after announcing a short break. The parents believe that the school board's decision was only a strategy to deflect a breach of contract lawsuit that the city is planning to file against the school board.

"I am just floored," commented Elizabeth Flynn during the break.

Flynn said that the pre-school program is held in four mobile classrooms behind the school.

"It was an excuse for them to get out of the lawsuit with the city," she said, describing her reaction as "disgusted."

"That just shows they do not care about the children," commented Tabitha King.

District 2 school board member David Vaden said that he was not part of the consensus to use Bedford Primary only for a pre-school program.

"I think we should keep it as a K-2," he said.

Vaden believes that any decision to close Bedford Primary should be done with enough advance time for planning, allowing for an easier transition.

According to Flynn, there are 368 students at Bedford Primary. Although the sixth grade at Bedford Elementary School will be moved to Bedford Middle School, Bedford Elementary will still have 628 students when the Bedford Primary students are sent there, leaving the school over capacity.

The school board spent the rest of the meeting deciding how to cut an additional $1.1 million from the school budget after the board of supervisors voted to level fund the school division this year.

"I think we are kind of all over the place," Hoback commented at one point as they struggled to reach a consensus.

District 1 school board member suggested making Body Camp Elementary School a pre-school only facility like they chose to do with Bedford Primary. Only District 4 school board member Gary Hostutler, who joined the discussion by phone, supported her, although District 5 school board member Julie Bennington suggested that she would support the idea later, but not this year.

Hoback suggested eliminating the proposed 1 percent pay raise for school employees, but was unable to get a consensus on this, although the the school board ultimately decided to scale it back to three-fourths of a percent. Vaden suggested that the money be given to employees as a bonus rather than a raise so that it won't carry over to next year as an obligation. The majority, however, preferred to give it as a pay raise.

"It's not like we gotta fund it again," commented Hostutler. "It's a line item."

Hoback also proposed eliminating the budgeted $742,000 from the maintenance project fund. She said that this would put planned projects on hold, but that they would still have money for emergencies.

"I think that is a disaster," commented Vaden

"The problem is, that is one more thing to deal with next year," said Hostutler.

According to Randy Hagler, the school division's director of finance, they have $1.2 million available that could be directed to projects.

A majority ultimately agreed with Hoback.

The school board also decided to eliminate the $200,000 budgeted for blended learning.

"That program needs to be put on hold," said Hostutler.

The majority also agreed to scale back funding for Title I teachers, eliminating two positions. This, however, is not a cut from the current year but a decrease in an increase that the school board had decided on earlier.

At the end, some school board members brought up the need for better planning in the future.

"We can't do this every year," commented Mickey VanDerwerker, the city's representative on the school board. "How do you as a family member say 'my school may or may not be there.'"

VanDerwerker suggested that the school board decide what things are the most important things for the school division to do, then focus on them.

"I think we need to start in August," said Vaden. "Lay out a plan of what we want to do and what we need to get there."

Vaden also suggested better communications with the board of supervisors, "but not a committee of two , a board of eight."