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“We’re moving forward.”
That was the message School Superintendent Dr. Douglas Schuch gave Tuesday morning about plans to close Bedford Primary School after sitting through Monday’s meeting with the Board of Supervisors, in which personal attacks and the promise of no new funds, if the school is closed, were thrown his way.
And that wasn’t all he had to say. “My feeling is if the county is that intent on keeping that school open, my hope is that they would give us $1.6 million (in additional funds) instead of the $1.1 million (proposed in new funding from the county). ...Nothing said last night changes our planning.”
Dr. Schuch was clearly surprised by the tone the board of supervisors’ meeting took on Monday.
“What we had was lectures by individual members of the board of supervisors around issues which they hadn’t even asked us questions about prior to that,” he said. “That’s very disappointing. The evening could have been better structured. I don’t feel like it’s done a lot for relations between the two boards.”
He didn’t believe the meeting’s tone was a result of misunderstanding.
“What you are seeing is posturing by the County Board of Supervisors to not provide the schools the funding that the county administrator has applied,” he said. “I don’t believe they are going to fund us at the level we need to be funded and that’s too bad.”
Dr. Schuch said the county falls far behind in funding education, compared to other school divisions in Virginia, where it ranks 129th out of the 132 school divisions in funding per student. “For members of our county board to say we don’t need particular funding, it’s real discouraging to hear that.”
And, he said, it’s not appropriate for the supervisors to question “the hard fought and difficult decisions that our board has been working on since November.”
“It’s really not their place whatsoever to engage in how the school budget is managed,” he said. “School boards are elected to do that job.”
Dr. Schuch said the school system will manage with whatever funding is provided. “I’m still hopeful they will give us the $1.1 million. That is what the county administrator had recommended, that is what I believe we need and I believe that is what the county expects.”
He said the focus of the supervisors should not have been on him, since it was, at that point, the school board’s unanimously approved budget. “I don’t believe one question was asked to a board member last night. That’s very disappointing,” he said.
On Feb. 22, he said the county supervisors were made aware that the school board had a consensus to close the Primary School. “Not one county board member objected that evening and that was the premise with which we were working.”
He said it wouldn’t be reasonable for the county board to cut the school board’s funding proposal and then expect it to keep BPS open.
“They’ve had a lot of difficult decisions to make,” he said of the school board and its budget discussions. “I think it’s unfair and I also think it’s completely out of bounds for a county board to dictate to a school board how they ought to allocate resources and operate the schools. The code of Virginia clearly sets that in the school board’s purview. … At the end of the day their job is to allocate resources to us and our job is to allocate them to where it helps students to the best way we see fit.”
Dr. Schuch said he and school board members have made themselves available to talk about the budget with county supervisors.
“You have to ask yourself, if they didn’t ask the questions and started making statements before they had all of the information, maybe there’s an ulterior motive here,” he said.
He said Monday’s meeting was “more surprising than tough,” adding that it was inappropriate for the supervisors to insult and talk down to the school board representatives.
“Individuals that would speak that way to us, that’s really their issue, not ours,” he said. “What I”m most disappointed in is that we went over there in good faith to have an open and honest dialogue.”
He said if board members had problems with aspects of the budget, the discussion could have been handled differently.
“I think there’s a professional way to do that and I think there’s an unprofessional way to do that. I believe last night was way out-of-bounds and uncalled for,” Dr. Schuch said. “I don’t believe anything was accomplished last night other than getting people upset at each other.”
He said the pay raise for employees could be in jeopardy if school funding is cut from the county administrator’s proposal.
“Some of them (the supervisors) sadly do not support a pay raise for our employees who already rank among the lowest regionally and who haven’t had one for several years,” he said.
Dr. Schuch said that issue is the school board’s to decide.
“Maybe it makes a good sound bite or argument to try and attack me or my budget,” he said.
He said school board members and school officials left Monday’s meeting asking, “Why were we here and what did we add to this conversation?”