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INDEPENDENCE — Students, teachers, administrators and support staff all asked Grayson County supervisors to consider funding the school system above the state’s minimum Local Required Effort to keep principals and aides at all division schools.
Ten concerned citizens spoke during the public hearing earlier this month on the proposed 2012-13 school budget and most had the same message — they like their principals and don’t want to give them up.
The Grayson County School Board submitted its proposed budget last month to the supervisors and the spending plan included $186,000 above the LRE — the funding amount required to receive maximum state dollars.
The additional funding included $51,000 to fund a principal position and another $136,300 to give all employees their first pay raise — 1 percent — in four years.
School Division Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Thomas said at the hearing that she hoped the supervisors would “strongly consider some additional funding” for the school division next year.
“We’ve had some very difficult cuts that we’ve had to deal with,” Thomas added. “We do appreciate you being willing to listen to us and our concerns.”
Alan Lineberry was the first registered speaker at the hearing. He said he spoke on behalf of Fairview Elementary School.
“We are asking that the school system be funded $50,000 to keep all of our principals,” Lineberry said.
The school board has said that if the county doesn’t provide the $50,000, it may have to remove a principal position from either Baywood or Fairview and share an administrator between the two schools.
Mike Reavis is the principal at Fairview and most of the comments during the public hearing came from the Fairview community.
“Mr. Reavis is the backbone of our school,” Lineberry continued. “He does good with our kids… Every school needs a principal. You can’t run a school with a principal here and there.”
Lineberry added that the school is in bad need of a furnace. The one in operation had been there since 1952 and has been patched numerous times.
While it may not save money immediately, Lineberry said in the long run it would help because the maintenance crew is spending a lot of money trying to keep the furnace running and buying coal.
Amy Vaughan, who works at Fairview Elementary, spoke at the hearing about her concerns over losing the school’s principal full-time.
Vaughan said with 75 percent of the school’s families qualifying as low income, Reavis was instrumental in setting up and implementing the Backpack Buddies program, which helps give students snacks outside of school time.
Reavis also created a free school supply closet and “brought clothing and shoes from his own home to provide for these families.”
Vaughan noted that Fairview has always ranked high in the district among SOL testing scores and was the only school in the county this year to receive the Governor’s Award for Excellence.
Vaughan pointed out that there are several other concerns with staff liability in the absence of an administrator. Students with special needs, custody and security issues are just some of the things the principal helps facilitate.
“It is a risk to go without [a principal full-time],” Vaughan said.
Vaughan added that parents may move their children to neighboring Galax City Schools, where they would have access to all the things Fairview has lost over the last few years.
“Please provide the $50,000 to provide a principal at both Fairview and Baywood,” Vaughan said.
Stephen Cornett, who serves as the county’s director of instruction and assessment, referenced his 36 years in education at the beginning of his speech at the hearing.
Cornett said he spoke on behalf of the 1,800-plus students that attend Grayson County Public Schools and mentioned the “enormous cuts” the division has taken over the last few years.
After losing “many, many instructions positions,” Cornett said the students continue to be the most affected in the cuts.
Losing programs has impacted the entire structure of the school division and decreasing federal money continues to impact training and professional development for the staff.
With a lack of adequate job opportunities in the community and families leaving the area, student enrollment has dropped.
The combination of all these things have created the "perfect storm," Cornett said.
“In addition to several [employees] losing their jobs, the upcoming year will be the fifth consecutive one without any raise,” Cornett said.
He said he was “sad and ashamed” that salaries for Grayson educators rank at or near the bottom in the state of Virginia.
Losing a principal position would “put a terrible burden on the remaining principal and staff at remaining schools,” Cornett added.
Cornett asked the board to consider adding the extra money to give the employees a “meager 1 percent raise.”
Janice Kirtz, a fifth grade teacher at Fairview, told the board how important it is to have a full-time principal at each school.
“Both schools want so desperately to keep their current principals, as they know everyone and positively impact the students,” Kirtz said. “We love our jobs and we love our principals.”
Kirtz said she was “more interested in keeping our principals than getting a 1 percent raise.”
“Please help us out of this terrible dilemma,” she added.
Caleb Tye, a fourth grader at Fairview, said that none of the students, including himself, wanted to lose Reavis.
“He is a great principal,” Tye said.
While the cuts have been detrimental to the school over the year, Tye felt that none of them impacted the students as much as losing their principal would.
“He motivates us to work towards our goals,” Tye continued. “We will be devastated if we lose Mr. Reavis. Please consider not just our school, but how our entire community could be affected if we lose Mr. Reavis.”
Alyssa Bobbitt, also a fourth grader at Fairview, said Reavis was “the best principal in the world. There’s probably no principal like him.”
Bobbitt said Reavis always makes sure the students are having fun and that she knew of at least 10 or 15 people that would move their kids out of Fairview if the school lost its principal.
“Please give us $50,000 so we can keep him,” Bobbitt said.
Larry Evans’ son goes to Fairview, even though he doesn’t live in the community.
“I drive him everyday,” Evans said at the hearing.
He felt like the community was so tight knit and the program was so “exceptional” that his son has the best opportunities ahead of him by attending Fairview.
Evans said Reavis always provided a sense of security and relief to the parents and that he never had to worry about someone else picking up his son, because he knew Reavis would be there to make sure that didn’t happen.
“I think he’s one of the best things that could’ve happened to the school,” Evans added. “He’s a great man and I hope that we can keep him there.”
Evans then asked the board to take some time and stop by the school to see how smoothly things run with Reavis around.
Beth Ritter is a mother of two children who attend Grayson Highlands School in the western end of the county.
While she had concerns about the principal position being lost, Ritter was more concerned with the loss of aides the school system has proposed.
Ritter’s son has a disability and, while he will maintain an aide because he has the right under the American’s with Disabilities Act, other students won’t be so fortunate.
“I’m not here to speak about [my son]. He’ll have an aide,” Ritter told the board at the hearing. “I’m here to speak about all the children that can’t come to you and can’t tell you how valuable those aides are in the school system.”
Ritter added that none of the schools could afford to lose their principal.
“Please provide the money necessary to support our aides… to provide a principal,” Ritter asked the board. “Support all of their needs.”
Brandy Ray is in her first year as an assistant principal at the high school.
She was born and raised in Grayson County and was excited to move back when a job opportunity came along last year.
Ray said at the hearing that it was essential to have principals in each school so that the “children are safe” and wanted the board to know that the staff deserved the salary increase because they “work harder than anyone I’ve ever laid eyes on.”
The final speaker of the hearing was Fred Weatherman, who added that Reavis was “a great guy” and that the school division did not “need to lose someone like him.”
Weatherman added that he had some concerns with the increasing budgets each year and reminded the board that in tough economic times “it’s not what we want… it’s what we can afford.”
The board is expected to take action on the school board’s budget during a budget work session on April 25.
The supervisors will begin a series of budget work sessions today, Wednesday.