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By TINA E. VAUGHN
INDEPENDENCE — In some Grayson County High School classes, Bill Clinton is still president.
In others, U.S. history ends at Sept. 11, 2001.
“It’s like learning in a bubble,” said Kathleen Rivera, a 16-year-old junior.
Rivera is active in Teachers for Tomorrow, a prestigious program that prepares teens for the rigorous journey to becoming an educator.
“I feel left behind,” said Rivera, who worries that she’s not getting the information from her U.S. History textbook that she needs. “I feel like I’m not learning about everything I need to know. What if I’m not prepared?”
Kate Reedy, 15, a freshman, notes that teachers are picking up where their textbooks stop. Teachers have their own homework and research to do, she said. It’s especially evident this year, after Virginia increased and added to its SOL standards for Social Studies.
Teachers go home, read, research and write, then share the information by writing it on boards in the classrooms so that students can copy the notes.
“That’s a lot of work for us... for teachers, too,” said Reedy.
Reedy is a student in Barry Shupe’s world history class, where the textbooks are nearly eight years old. Her book has, literally, fallen apart — and it’s not the only one. Front and back covers sit on empty desks, as students place them to the side while trying to manhandle the flimsy, torn pages of their text.
Rivera, who’s sitting next door in Brad Mawyer’s U.S. history class, has the same issues.
“Pages are torn. Ripped out. Covers are gone. They’re taped together. My friend’s book says Bill Clinton is president.” Rivera just shakes her head over that one. “Seriously?”
Reedy notes that students are expected to have all their new and shiny school supplies ready each August. But there are no new textbooks to go with them.
“I think new textbooks would keep us more motivated. We’d actually want to use them if they were up to date. You know?”
Not having better textbooks makes Reedy feel “unimportant. It’s like [students] don’t even matter.”
For those who wonder why the school system can’t use $200,000 from its more than $20.8 million budget to purchase some new textbooks, the answer is simple: after cutting wherever possible and eliminating more than 30 teaching positions over the past several years, “we can’t eliminate anymore,” said Grayson Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Thomas. “At this point, it’s a bare bones budget. We’d have to look at something really drastic to find that in the budget.”
Purchasing new textbooks is one of the school system’s “critical needs,” identified in a $21 million proposed budget, in which school officials requested $5.56 million in county funds.
County supervisors did not approve the budget proposal, instead voting to give $4.2 million in county funds — the minimum necessary to secure all state and federal money for the school system’s operation — plus another $1 million to pay for Phase I school construction debt.
Though supervisors didn’t vote to fund the school system’s request, that doesn’t mean county leaders don’t realize the importance of public school education, noted County Administrator Jonathan Sweet.
Over the past week, Sweet has identified two additional funding sources for the school system — a county-created grant program that would earmark 50 percent of Grayson’s Wildwood Commerce Park dividends for use as grant funds for the school system, and a long-idle textbook account with a $17,000 balance.
Sweet said that supervisors directed him “to develop creative solutions to meeting the financial needs of the school system.”
While Sweet and Treasurer Junior Young continue to analyze the county’s finances, the pair recently “discovered” the textbook fund. Unsure of its origin, Sweet said the $17,000 fund was sitting “stagnant” for years.
Sweet recommended that the school system request the fund balance — $17,257.23 — to be used specifically for the purchase of new textbooks.
While the textbook fund is a small, but much-needed, boost to the school system’s budget, the fund is essentially a windfall. It won’t be replenished.
So, how will leaders address the textbook issue and the school system’s other critical needs?
Creative solutions are necessary, said Sweet.
The $17,000 “will certainly help us,” Thomas said. “Now, of course, it’s not enough to buy all the new textbooks that are needed... so we’ll be searching for other ways to purchase them, whether grants, donations or other means,” Thomas said.