Grayson citizens plead: don't cut teachers

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By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

INDEPENDENCE — Citizens pleaded with the Grayson County School Board not to sacrifice teachers to offset drastic state funding cuts Monday night — just before the board approved the 2010-11 budget.

Four Grayson citizens attended the regular school board meeting to ask board members to consider alternative cuts instead of reducing personnel.

Previously, administrators proposed 56 reductions in personnel — including 19 teachers — to offset a growing $2.3 million shortfall in the upcoming budget.

David Sutherland spoke first and said he was representing the taxpayers of Grayson County.

He asked several questions, one of which was why buses were running several trips empty.

"We need to do something about that," he said of the buses that often drop students off at school and then return to the driver's home or place of employment with an empty load.

Sutherland then questioned how many county cars the school system has and if all of them need to be operating.

"Don't cut our teachers," he pleaded to the board. He then asked if they felt they were cutting the budget the right way. "We need to start at the top."

James Hayes spoke next and, while his main concern continues to be giving kids in the western end of the county a fair chance to participate in sports and activities, he also addressed the budget crisis.

"We just need to do what's right," he told board members. "We need to pay attention to where our cuts are. If you cut the teachers, you're cutting the education for the students."

Jerry Testerman also spoke as a representative of the taxpayers and noted that all three of his sons graduated from Grayson County High School.

His middle son went to medical school and, when Testerman asked how the school system prepared him for college, his son told him "they did a great job."

Testerman said his son added that things students did everyday at GCHS, other kids from larger school districts struggled with as they continued their education.

"In this school budget, we always talk about cutting teachers... we don't need to cut teachers. This budget is too top-heavy," Testerman said, referring to the idea that administration salaries are too high and responsibilities are too low.

Testerman offered a word of advice on keeping those buses from making so many unnecessary trips.

He suggested using a few of the county vehicles to allow the drivers to commute back and forth, while letting the buses remain parked at the school.

Additionally, he suggested changes at the administrative level. Testerman said people in administration — and often in all fields — used to do three or four jobs.

"Now they are doing just one," he said, noting that in his job he often wore many hats — and if he hadn't, he wouldn't have a job. "I'm sick and tired of seeing one person doing one thing."

Grayson County Education Association President Rebecca Absher said she understands the dire circumstances the school system is in with budget cuts, but the teachers and support staff are what make the educational system so good.

"Our teachers are what make our classroom what it is," she said. "We need each position we have. Please don't cut our personnel."

She then handed out buttons to each of the school board members that simply stated "Keep the promise."

Absher said those buttons were given out to state delegates when educators visited Richmond as a way to remember the promises made to the students to provide quality education.

Absher asked board members to keep the promise to the kids in Grayson County that a high quality and well-maintained education system will be available to them.

Later in the meeting, the school board voted unanimously to approve the 2010-11 school budget, which includes the 56 personnel reductions.

The budget includes a reduction of roughly 6 percent for employees across the board and includes several adjusted contracts, which Thomas has said will actually reduce those employees' salaries by more than 6 percent.

The $19.99 million budget will likely be adjusted as the final state budget has yet to be approved.

Both the House and State Senate have proposed very different budgets than the one former governor Tim Kaine left behind at the end of his term in January. The budget approved is based on Kaine's numbers.

According to numbers provided to the board during Monday night's meeting, the Senate's proposed budget would provide an additional $219,000 to the school system, while the House's budget would cut an additional $1.3 million. The final budget will likely be a compromise between the two.

The General Assembly is set to end its session on Saturday, so final numbers could be known soon.