“Roanoke City Schools is not alone nor being singled out in anyway,” confirmed School Board Chairman, David Carson at Tuesday’s meeting and budget hearing held at the William Fleming High School cafeteria. There was standing room only and attendee’s lined the walls and doorways including Mayor David Bowers, Council members Court Rosen and Anita Price. .The budget shortfall of $15 million is more than 10% of this year’s budget. “We are being asked to run, succeed, and excel in a challenged school division with less resources then we had 3 years ago,” said Carson.
Carson was quick to point out the priorities saying “we must protect our children first” followed closely by teachers then facilities. Facilities that may be either closed or repurposed include: Woodrow Wilson Middle School, William Ruffner Middle School, James Madison Middle School, Fishburn Park Elementary School, and/or Raleigh Court Elementary School.
Carson traveled to Richmond last week to lobby for House Bill 1826 – an effort to keep kids in school by using revocation of their driver’s license as a deterrent. The bill passed this week but was of little comfort as RCPS struggles with the 10% budget cut.
After meeting with Delegate William Fralin and Delegate Morgan Griffith, Carson on his ride back from Richmond phoned saying, “it is just awful” referring to the budget cuts coming to the RCPS system. With 80% of the current budget being personnel he said, “I try to never get despondent but I’m pretty close to it.”
Curt Baker, Deputy Superintendent of Operations, presented figures showing a $10.2 million decline in revenue, a $2.8 million increase in uncontrollable costs such as health care, and $2 million set aside for additional expected cuts. State revenue is expected to decline further and cause RCPS to make additional adjustments including layoffs.
The RCPS final budget is required to be in the city’s hands by March 15th. RCPS is hoping that the date can be extended so they can explore together with the city the best way to preserve education as a priority for the community.
Mayor Bowers later wanted to make clear that, “there is no more money – I will not vote to raise taxes.”
School bus drivers filled the room concerned over the outsourcing of the transportation system. Carson explained that no one has made a proposal yet though four companies have expressed interest. Requests for proposals are due February 20th and by March 3rd the finalist companies will make a presentation. On March 6th the company will be chosen with a contract to be negotiated by April 7th. The long term potential cost savings will be in fleet maintenance, bus purchases, and staffing. Replacement of $75,000 buses would “be on their nickel,” said Carson. Every dollar saved can potentially go to the students or save a teacher Carson added.
Dian Bolling, a mother of three special needs children emotionally praised the bus drivers for their care as she spoke to the school board.
Bus drivers worried about their one-year-old retirement plan. Driver, Pat Wright asked what will happen to the money we put into the Virginia Retirement System (VRS). He asked, “will we get that back? Would we loose our sick leave?”
Later in the parking lot I spoke to Shelby Butler a driver for 36 years for Fairview and William Fleming. She said that their retirement system would not transfer. Another driver, Pam Johns spoke up saying, “we can’t take our benefits with us – we will loose it all or start from scratch.” David Howell is a Special Ed driver for Hurt Park and Patrick Henry. Howell said he meets teachers at stops and even helps carry students to the bus. One of the students with Muscular Dystrophy he carries every day said Butler. Butler, Johns and Howell wonder if a “privatized transportation worker” would be permitted to provide such individual care.
, past president of the central PTA, praised the school board for all their hard work and was sympathetic to “all the nights [they] are not sleeping.” Brash appreciated how open they were being and offered to be their sounding board. Brash turned to the audience and asked them to “keep it positive” and to offer suggestions not criticism.
There will be a special public hearing at Lucy Addison on February 18th at 6:30 PM.