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The public got its first shot at voicing its concerns about the 2013-2014 school budget, and several voiced support for a teacher pay raise during the Bedford County School Board meeting last Thursday.
Karen Nuzzo, representing the Bedford County Education Association, told board members that teachers were looking for a raise this year. “It’s been five long years,” she said of the lack of raises for school employees.
Teachers, she said, matter more than anything else that will be included in the budget, adding that keeping the best teachers in the county is important.
She noted that the Roanoke school system is offering math teachers a $10,000 bonus if they sign on to teach there.
Robert Holmes, representing the Bedford County PTA County Council, said he stood with the teachers. He said parents have a voice, too, and noted that ultimately it is the board of supervisors that controls the budget.
At the end of the meeting, during comments from board members, Chairman Gary Hostutler echoed the need to give school employees a raise. He noted that even county residents on fixed incomes have received raises in their checks the past two years, while school employees have not had an increase in five years.
“Hopefully this is the year we can start to see some progress,” he said. “We can’t keep sticking our heads in the sand.”
In action Thursday night the school board:
• Approved an elementary redistricting plan.
On a 7-1 vote board members approved the revised elementary redistricting plan for the 2014-2015 school year. District 3 board member John Hicks opposed the plan, stating the board needed to wait to see if projected decreases in enrollment take place. “Postpone (any changes) for two years to see if the matter resolves itself,” he said of the overcrowding problem in the Forest Zone.
The plan will affect only about 1 percent of students—114 in all--attending Bedford County Public Schools, all in the Forest Zone, and would exclude moving any students to Big Island Elementary. A previous plan, that drew considerable criticism from affected families, would have moved as many as 260 students from their current schools. Some students also would have changed graduation zones.
In the approved plan, 32 students from Forest Elementary and 30 from Thomas Jefferson Elementary would move to Boonsboro Elementary. Thomas Jefferson would also add 50 students from Forest Elementary. The rationale for the redistricting is to move as many students as possible out of mobile classrooms at Forest Elementary. But even with the changes, Forest Elementary will still be operating at 99 percent capacity.
Students will be allowed to continue to attend the school they are at when redistricting takes place, as long as they provide their own transportation. But an approved policy change would exclude their younger siblings, not yet in school, from also being able to attend that school.
Also students attending an out-of-district zone because their parents are an employee in the zone may attend a school in close proximity to the school where they work, but that school must not be closed to zone transfers.
• Discussed the Middle School Feasibility Study.
The study, prepared by the architectural and engineering firm Wiley & Wilson, looked at the feasibility of building a new middle school next to Liberty High School on that school’s property.
The cost estimates, on a variety of options, range in price from $28 million to $40 million, according to the draft report of the study.
All three proposals would require one or more of the current sports fields at LHS to be relocated, if that site is chosen.
A number of sites have been looked at the past two years with the school board favoring a site as close as possible to Liberty High School. That prompted the study by Wiley & Wilson to look at what it would take to have the middle school built on the LHS site. But other sites are still being discussed, including one in the Thaxton area in which the land for the school could be donated to the county.
Until the new school is built, the county will lease the current middle school from the city. The longer it takes for the school to be constructed, the more the county will have to pay to the city for using the facility.
Wiley & Wilson looked at the possibilities of constructing a new facility for 700 middle school students on the LHS site, which has about 40 acres.
• Approved a request for carryover funds.
The school board approved a request to the supervisors to apply $655,000 in carryover funds from the 2011-2012 school year to its self-funded health insurance fund. The money would be used to help offset an expected increase in health insurance costs for the upcoming school year.