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Teachers unite to ask for county’s help

They lined the walls and flowed into the lobby, but the teachers were united in one purpose – to ask the county to fully-fund a $5 million shortfall in the school system’s budget for 2010-11.
More than 100 teachers from schools throughout the county overflowed the Pulaski County Board of Supervisors meeting room Monday night during the board’s regular monthly meeting. Although they were not on the agenda, the teachers used a public comment period to ask the board to do all it can to save their jobs.
All of the teachers did not speak, but they eagerly applauded those who did.
Shannon Turner, president of the Pulaski County Education Association, thanked the supervisors for their support of the schools over past years and asked them to fully fund the schools’ nearly $16 million in estimated needs for the 2010-11 Fiscal Year.
In past years, she said, “you have helped make it possible for students in Pulaski County to have a quality education.” She noted that students “have made great strides” on the Standards of Learning and “narrowing the achievement gap.”
However, if the state follows through with cutting its funding to the school system by more than 20 percent or $5 million, Turner said “we could see much of the progress we have made in our schools start to deteriorate.
When combined with another 15 percent cuts in K-12 state funding since 2008, Turner said the schools are facing “unprecedented” reductions and shortfalls they haven’t had to deal with “since the Great Depression.
“These reductions write off a generation of youth in our community, the very children that will have the burden of climbing out of this recession,” she said. “They will also be the wage earners of the next economy. They will need all of the help that we can give them to meet the challenges they will inherit. The best thing we can give them is a good education.”
Turner asked the supervisors if they believe reducing teaching staffs and increasing class sizes, eliminating key programs and activities, and possibly closing one of the county’s middle schools would provide a good education.
“We cannot afford to save money at the expense of our schools,” she said, adding that the quality of the county’s schools will be reduced and the students and county as a whole will be “harmed” if something isn’t done to offset the state’s cuts.
Turner said the cuts will “have a damaging long-term effect on Pulaski County’s ability to develop its workforce, attract business and create jobs.” She noted that the unemployment rate has risen from 7.6 percent to 9.6 percent over the past year. Cutting another 100 positions in the schools will only contribute to that rate, she added.
A reduction of more than 100 staff positions within the school system is one possibility that has been mentioned for dealing with the budget shortfall. Closing one of the two middle schools also has been mentioned.
“Private employers often do not have a choice in laying people off and closing businesses,” Turner added. “In the case of our school system, there is a choice.”
The education association is asking the county to use its reserve funds to cover most, if not all, of the school’s deficit. “Now is the time to use those reserves,” Turner said.
The county has a total of $26 million in reserves, but only $11 million is unrestricted, according to Finance Director Diane Newby. Some of the reserves are restricted due to a law requiring 10 percent of the annual budget be set aside as reserve and some have been reserved as the result of capital improvements made over the years.
Bob Anderson, who has been teaching at Pulaski Middle School for 31 years, said the prospect the middle school could be closed came as a surprise to the staff and has caused a lot of anxiety. He asked the board to do all it can to save the school. However, if it must be closed he asked that they “buy us a year” by funding its continued operation through the next fiscal year so that the merge can be completed with adequate planning and teachers who will lose their jobs will have time to arrangement employment elsewhere.
Several other people spoke regarding the budget shortfall.
Carolyn Yee, a para-educator who assists handicap students in the school system, asked that the board preserve the positions of para-educators because the students they serve and teachers depend on them.
Sarah Eggleston, who has a handicap child in county schools, also pleaded for the para-educator positions to be preserved.
Frances Viars, a substitute teacher, said the county can’t replace the dedicated teachers it has in the school system. She said they are some of the best the county has ever had.
“I’m not asking you for help (funding the schools and teachers), I’m begging you,” Viars told the supervisors.
C. E. Boyd, a lifetime resident of the county, said the county has worked too hard to grow its school system to give up on it now.
Boyd said county supervisors need to tell legislators in Richmond that “the state doesn’t end in Lynchburg. We’ve got to do everything we can to say we’ve had enough” with state money benefiting Northern Virginia and leaving rural areas behind. “We’re part of Virginia too.”
Teacher Angela Clevinger said she heard a county official comment during a recent meeting pertaining to a wellness center that whenever something is important enough the county always seems to find the money for it. She said education of the county’s youth is one of those things.
Clevinger said the county should hold public education “sacred” because teachers can make a difference in a child’s life.
“The only way we can grow as a human race” is through education, she said, adding that it is the only hope for peace in the world.
Erin Edwards, a Snowville Elementary School teacher who grew up in Pulaski County, said it “scares me to death I finally achieved my goal of becoming a teacher and I may now lose my job” and have to go to another community to teach. She pointed out that a number of the teachers who inspired her over the years were seated in the audience.
Cody Hamilton said he mother, Lisa Hamilton, is a special education teacher. He said he is proud of the time his mother dedicates to her job and students, often working until late at night to prepare her lessons. He said the teachers didn’t come to Monday night’s meeting just to save their paychecks.
“They’re here because they care for the kids,” he said. “I think it’s horrible that you’d think about cutting jobs.”
Supervisors Chairman Joe Sheffey said developing this year’s budget is going to be a “very difficult task.”
He said he thinks the board has historically done the best it can to fund the school system.
“We’ve gone to Richmond and voiced the same concerns you’ve voiced here tonight,” he said. “I’m sorry to say, but it seems the ones in Richmond don’t want to hear what we have to say.”
Sheffey said the board, just as the teachers, are concerned about the state issuing mandates for SOL testing and other reporting that it will not fund.
“We hear your concerns,” he told the crowd. “This is a very difficult time and difficult task we have to do.”
Sheffey urged the teachers to contact their state legislators and voice their concerns.
County Administrator Peter Huber agreed. He said he understands that 30,000 teachers are in jeopardy of losing their jobs statewide due to state cuts.
“If there were 30,000 teachers in Richmond, it might make a difference,” he said. “You’re a little bit in the wrong place.”
He said the teachers need to either ask the state to reduce funding cuts or give counties more taxing options. He noted that, at present, it would take a 33 percent increase in the county real estate tax rate just to make up the $3.9 million shortfall in the school system’s operating budget. That doesn’t cover another million dollars in reduced capital funding.
If the personal property tax was increased to make up for the lost funding, Huber said a 91 percent increase would be necessary.
He said the scale of the shortfall is of such magnitude that it is “disheartening.”
County Attorney Tom McCarthy suggested the teachers “fire off” letters to Gov. Bob McDonnell. He said flooding the new governor’s office could make a difference in state cuts.
Ingles District Supervisor Ranny Akers said he sees cuts in education as an economic loss for the county. Nonetheless, he said, the county has few methods of funding its needs. Of the state, he added, “they’re going to send us the bills they can’t pay, but we can’t pay them either.”

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Teachers unite to ask for county’s help

They lined the walls and flowed into the lobby, but the teachers were united in one purpose – to ask the county to fully-fund a $5 million shortfall in the school system’s budget for 2010-11.
More than 100 teachers from schools throughout the county overflowed the Pulaski County Board of Supervisors meeting room Monday night during the board’s regular monthly meeting. Although they were not on the agenda, the teachers used a public comment period to ask the board to do all it can to save their jobs.
All of the teachers did not speak, but they eagerly applauded those who did.
Shannon Turner, president of the Pulaski County Education Association, thanked the supervisors for their support of the schools over past years and asked them to fully fund the schools’ nearly $16 million in estimated needs for the 2010-11 Fiscal Year.
In past years, she said, “you have helped make it possible for students in Pulaski County to have a quality education.” She noted that students “have made great strides” on the Standards of Learning and “narrowing the achievement gap.”
However, if the state follows through with cutting its funding to the school system by more than 20 percent or $5 million, Turner said “we could see much of the progress we have made in our schools start to deteriorate.
When combined with another 15 percent cuts in K-12 state funding since 2008, Turner said the schools are facing “unprecedented” reductions and shortfalls they haven’t had to deal with “since the Great Depression.
“These reductions write off a generation of youth in our community, the very children that will have the burden of climbing out of this recession,” she said. “They will also be the wage earners of the next economy. They will need all of the help that we can give them to meet the challenges they will inherit. The best thing we can give them is a good education.”
Turner asked the supervisors if they believe reducing teaching staffs and increasing class sizes, eliminating key programs and activities, and possibly closing one of the county’s middle schools would provide a good education.
“We cannot afford to save money at the expense of our schools,” she said, adding that the quality of the county’s schools will be reduced and the students and county as a whole will be “harmed” if something isn’t done to offset the state’s cuts.
Turner said the cuts will “have a damaging long-term effect on Pulaski County’s ability to develop its workforce, attract business and create jobs.” She noted that the unemployment rate has risen from 7.6 percent to 9.6 percent over the past year. Cutting another 100 positions in the schools will only contribute to that rate, she added.
A reduction of more than 100 staff positions within the school system is one possibility that has been mentioned for dealing with the budget shortfall. Closing one of the two middle schools also has been mentioned.
“Private employers often do not have a choice in laying people off and closing businesses,” Turner added. “In the case of our school system, there is a choice.”
The education association is asking the county to use its reserve funds to cover most, if not all, of the school’s deficit. “Now is the time to use those reserves,” Turner said.
The county has a total of $26 million in reserves, but only $11 million is unrestricted, according to Finance Director Diane Newby. Some of the reserves are restricted due to a law requiring 10 percent of the annual budget be set aside as reserve and some have been reserved as the result of capital improvements made over the years.
Bob Anderson, who has been teaching at Pulaski Middle School for 31 years, said the prospect the middle school could be closed came as a surprise to the staff and has caused a lot of anxiety. He asked the board to do all it can to save the school. However, if it must be closed he asked that they “buy us a year” by funding its continued operation through the next fiscal year so that the merge can be completed with adequate planning and teachers who will lose their jobs will have time to arrangement employment elsewhere.
Several other people spoke regarding the budget shortfall.
Carolyn Yee, a para-educator who assists handicap students in the school system, asked that the board preserve the positions of para-educators because the students they serve and teachers depend on them.
Sarah Eggleston, who has a handicap child in county schools, also pleaded for the para-educator positions to be preserved.
Frances Viars, a substitute teacher, said the county can’t replace the dedicated teachers it has in the school system. She said they are some of the best the county has ever had.
“I’m not asking you for help (funding the schools and teachers), I’m begging you,” Viars told the supervisors.
C. E. Boyd, a lifetime resident of the county, said the county has worked too hard to grow its school system to give up on it now.
Boyd said county supervisors need to tell legislators in Richmond that “the state doesn’t end in Lynchburg. We’ve got to do everything we can to say we’ve had enough” with state money benefiting Northern Virginia and leaving rural areas behind. “We’re part of Virginia too.”
Teacher Angela Clevinger said she heard a county official comment during a recent meeting pertaining to a wellness center that whenever something is important enough the county always seems to find the money for it. She said education of the county’s youth is one of those things.
Clevinger said the county should hold public education “sacred” because teachers can make a difference in a child’s life.
“The only way we can grow as a human race” is through education, she said, adding that it is the only hope for peace in the world.
Erin Edwards, a Snowville Elementary School teacher who grew up in Pulaski County, said it “scares me to death I finally achieved my goal of becoming a teacher and I may now lose my job” and have to go to another community to teach. She pointed out that a number of the teachers who inspired her over the years were seated in the audience.
Cody Hamilton said he mother, Lisa Hamilton, is a special education teacher. He said he is proud of the time his mother dedicates to her job and students, often working until late at night to prepare her lessons. He said the teachers didn’t come to Monday night’s meeting just to save their paychecks.
“They’re here because they care for the kids,” he said. “I think it’s horrible that you’d think about cutting jobs.”
Supervisors Chairman Joe Sheffey said developing this year’s budget is going to be a “very difficult task.”
He said he thinks the board has historically done the best it can to fund the school system.
“We’ve gone to Richmond and voiced the same concerns you’ve voiced here tonight,” he said. “I’m sorry to say, but it seems the ones in Richmond don’t want to hear what we have to say.”
Sheffey said the board, just as the teachers, are concerned about the state issuing mandates for SOL testing and other reporting that it will not fund.
“We hear your concerns,” he told the crowd. “This is a very difficult time and difficult task we have to do.”
Sheffey urged the teachers to contact their state legislators and voice their concerns.
County Administrator Peter Huber agreed. He said he understands that 30,000 teachers are in jeopardy of losing their jobs statewide due to state cuts.
“If there were 30,000 teachers in Richmond, it might make a difference,” he said. “You’re a little bit in the wrong place.”
He said the teachers need to either ask the state to reduce funding cuts or give counties more taxing options. He noted that, at present, it would take a 33 percent increase in the county real estate tax rate just to make up the $3.9 million shortfall in the school system’s operating budget. That doesn’t cover another million dollars in reduced capital funding.
If the personal property tax was increased to make up for the lost funding, Huber said a 91 percent increase would be necessary.
He said the scale of the shortfall is of such magnitude that it is “disheartening.”
County Attorney Tom McCarthy suggested the teachers “fire off” letters to Gov. Bob McDonnell. He said flooding the new governor’s office could make a difference in state cuts.
Ingles District Supervisor Ranny Akers said he sees cuts in education as an economic loss for the county. Nonetheless, he said, the county has few methods of funding its needs. Of the state, he added, “they’re going to send us the bills they can’t pay, but we can’t pay them either.”

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