Separating needs from wants

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By Susan Falls Kirby
Bedford County School Board
District 6

    When my children were in kindergarten and first grade one of my favorite lessons to help them with was the ability to separate needs from wants.  It’s a really hard lesson to learn when you are so young, and I think sometimes that line gets cloudy again as we get older. 
    There are lots of “needs” in Bedford County Public Schools.  It is difficult to triage those needs accordingly.  That’s why we have CIP (Capital Improvement Project) reports in an effort to prioritize those needs.  Currently there are TWO schools in the county with students in mobile classroom units, we have a school in the county that does not have a gymnasium, leaky roofs, safety and security systems in need of upgrading and improving, parking lots in need of repaving, carpets to be removed from schools, HVAC systems in need of replacing and a high school with enrollment continuously declining that teachers have been lost every year for the past few years and class offerings are also being lost thereby depriving those students of an equal educational opportunity.
    Granted, I do not have the title of doctor in front of my name or initials indicating special degrees after it, but I do see that instead of investing all of surplus reserve funds into one school, if one is truly looking out for all of BCPS, the funds should be shared and solve as many needs as possible with the funds instead of concentrating on just solving the over crowding issue in one school only.
    County wide redistricting should be implemented before any tax money is invested in an extravagant expansion to FMS.  Granted Forest Middle School is at 112% of their capacity, but Huddleston Elementary is at 105% of capacity and Thomas Jefferson Elementary and New London Academy are tied for third highest capacities at 93% each.  Now the transverse of those numbers Goodview Elementary is at 68% capacity, Bedford Primary is at 61% capacity and Big Island and Stewartsville Elementary Schools are tied for the lowest capacities at 55%.  All the schools combined can handle a total of 11,380 students with a current enrollment count to be approximately 9,512 students.    There is a combined capacity difference in all schools of 1,868.
    With so many needs for ALL schools I cannot support spending $22.5 million just to improve one school.  Yes, the Liberty zone does have a new middle school, but building that school was state mandated due to the city to town reversion agreement in Bedford, and it took over 5 years to break ground on that project. If it weren’t for that, I’m sure our students would still be in a 90-year-old building.
    Yes, the idea of redistricting can be scary, and families will be upset, just ask the parents of the students that attended Body Camp Elementary or Thaxton Elementary.  But these families were told that kids are resilient and will adjust so I don’t see why that can’t apply county wide as well.  There needs to be a plan to intergrade the new zones and consolidate the students into their new zones, not just thrown into it the way the BCES and TES had to endure.  The first step to this transition should be stopping the option for zone transfers. 
    I have heard the complaints from Goode residents that if they were zoned for LHS and not JFHS their property values will go down.  If that is truly the case, then shame on Bedford County Public Schools for allowing the disparity among the zones and not providing equal opportunities for all students. 
    Yes, I am looking out for the interest of all schools and not just one zone.  I was elected to make sound, logical decisions and to be a good steward of county residents’ tax money.  Often, I have to separate my personal feelings and approach a situation logically and unbiasedly.  When I realize how much need there is county wide and how far the funding for the FMS expansion can go to address many needs, I cannot support it.  I understand there are future developments in the Forest area and the population is expected to grow, however, we are not sure how the school population will be effected. If a middle school expansion is needed after redistricting, and one that is not as extravagant, then I will support it.  Until that time, we need to close the disparity lines and do better at implementing equal educational opportunities for all zones.