Public feedback meeting for OWPR school study heated



Last Thursday night the Pulaski County High School’s Little Theater was the site of a meeting for public feedback on the school study conducted by architectural and engineering firm OWPR.

The study concluded that the Dublin Elementary, Dublin Middle and Pulaski Middle school buildings had outlived their lifespan and either needed renovation or replacement. The study also offered the option of consolidating the middle schools.

Members of the public were invited to speak in turn, with each person allotted five minutes. Some school board and Board of Supervisors members were present; Pulaski County School Superintendant Dr. Tom Brewster led the event from the theater’s stage.

Comments were varied throughout the evening, but the running theme was a need for change as soon as possible, though ideas about the exact nature of the change were different.

Among those who spoke was E.W. Harless, who works in Norfolk Southern’s engineering department. “I’ve looked at what the handouts says, and this has been discussed for I know 25-plus years,” he said. “We’ve gone through more supervisors, we’ve gone though different school board members, and it seems like all that’s happened is it’s been discussed. Twenty-five years ago, if we would have started setting money aside, we would be in good shape.”

Harless outlined his own educational experience, saying, “I was one that slipped through the cracks in the school system, with learning disabilities. I know how hard it has been for 42-plus years to try to stay ahead because of not having the proper education. I’m not ashamed of it, it’s just the way that it happened. What I would be ashamed of is for our school board and Board of Supervisors to let any more slip in the cracks. My feelings is, let’s bite the bullet, save the money on the stuff that you can save it on, without undermining, and let’s do it.”

Local business owner and Board of Supervisors member Andy McCready took perhaps the most cautious approach of the evening.

“We got a few comments that this is going to be a large project for our school board. It really requires a lot of thought. Because it’s going to be a 50-year decision.” He said that the study’s parameters were good as far as they went, but at least one important factor was left out. “The one thing we didn’t ask,” he said, “was what could we afford. If we, Pulaski County, move forward with a new combined middle school and a new Dublin Elementary School, which was the most expensive two alternatives, it would require a 29-cent property tax increase for 20 years. For 20 years,” he repeated. “That’s a 50 percent rise in our property tax. Something like that is going to have to be decided by the voters. Because that puts our taxes above Montgomery County’s. That’s going to put us in a very difficult position.”

McCready also advised against combining middle schools, saying it was better to talk to retired teachers from an earlier era and find out what problems the last consolidation had. However, he also stated that he believed Pulaski Middle School was not worth renovating. McCready noted that according to his findings, most Pulaski County elementary schools were built to handle a larger student population than they had, and that it was worth finding out, “what can we add to Critzer to make it the new Pulaski Middle School?” while admitting that the school would need renovation.

“From a cashflow standpoint, we have eight more years of payments on three existing schools. So we’ve got to be able to pay those,” he said.  He told the assembly that the Board of Supervisors had just sent off a $1.3 million payment for Riverlawn Elementary. “That’s a lot of money, folks. So I agree with Mr. Harless. I think this problem has been brewing for a long time…This problem wasn’t created overnight, it won’t be solved overnight…I think we need to look at a roadmap of improvements for the schools each and every year.”

Substitute teacher Andrea Jarrells said that despite potential tax increase, she felt that even older voters would allow a tax increase if they saw the conditions of some of the schools that their grandchildren are being educated in.

“What I have to say is, come and spend time with these children in these schools,” she said. “Come and sit with them every day in this heat and breathe in the dust and the mold, and then come back and tell me what you think, OK? Because you may have grandchildren that may not be in there now, but may be someday. I’d rather have an increase in taxes to know that it’s going to the future of this county…but do what you need to do. What are you going to do when the floor collapses? Or the roof caves in? Because it’s coming. If you were in there day in and day out and saw these conditions, you would understand.”

“I would like the school board employees come and work in the middle schools,” she said. “Let’s switch it around. Let’s have our kids go attend school at the school board office, and maybe then there might be a sense of urgency.”

Regarding the board, she went on to say, “The school board should be an open door for teachers to come to, and feel comfortable. You know why the public doesn’t know what goes on in these schools, and the conditions? Because teachers are afraid to come forth for fear of retaliation, quite honestly. I feel like we should be working together but I feel like I’ve been talking for months, and nothing’s being done. Get up and get something done!”

Jarrells said that she was against combining the middle schools, but “rather than leave my children in the hellhole that they’re learning in every day, I would rather them be able to come somewhere they enjoy.” She said she felt the public was being appeased but nothing was getting done. “It’s not enough. It’s time to move.” Her comments received a smattering of applause.

Brewster addressed her remarks, saying, “I’ll tell you, Ms. Jarrells, if you ever attend one of our teacher round table sessions, you’ll see that our teachers aren’t too afraid to speak. They speak their mind.”

“Well, that’s not what I’ve been told,” said Jarrells.

“Well, you need to come to one of our round table meetings. And I don’t think there’s any fear of retaliation there, I can tell you that,” Brewster said. “Would anyone else like to speak?”

Marilou Sanders, a special education teacher, replied to Jarrells’ earlier remarks and said, “I teach at Pulaski Middle School. And we have no air conditioning. We nourish our children, and we are not a hellhole. And I don’t appreciate that comment.” Sanders also described problems that had come from consolidating schools when she was a student, and said that she thought children might be overwhelmed and overlooked in a larger facility.

“I apologize,” said Jarrells. Later in the evening, she elaborated, “I want to apologize for that. I get fired up. When it comes to my kids, the mama bear comes out in me. So I do apologize for that comment. And Mr. McCready, I am very appreciative of you throwing your ideas out there, I think that’s wonderful. I just think we need to do something. Let’s go. Come on.” She laughed. “I’ll be your cheerleader all the way.”

Melissa Gilbert, a math teacher at Dublin Middle, said, “I am a product of Pulaski County Schools and have come back here to work. It just seems like for 20 years I’ve been told ‘We’re working on it, we’re working on it, we’re going to do something.’ I was supposed have been in a new middle school in 2012. It’s 2013 and we’re in the exact same place. I work in a classroom that has not been painted for 20 years. Nothing has been done in my classroom for 20 school years.”

She said that she preferred smaller schools and felt like more of the students had a chance to participate in them as opposed to a larger school, but really wanted the county to do something soon. Gilbert also said she is willing to suffer in the heat for work but felt it was not acceptable for children.

“I went to the elementary school to drop something off while my child was there. I walked into the classroom, all the lights were out, the students were sitting there working, and sweat was dripping onto their paper. I cried all the way back to my school…our kids are worth more than we’re giving them,” she said.

Andy McCready spoke again, saying that he understood the frustration for all concerned, given the wait time on bids and proposals. “It’s been a learning experience for me,” he said.

A few others had words of praise for the school board and expressed a desire to see action taken. Brewster started to dismiss the meeting, but Harless interjected, saying, “Now wait a minute…let’s just cut to the chase, and let’s just throw it out on the table.”

He said, “I agree with you, Mr. McCready, that people don’t like tax increases. They don’t like tax increases towards $2 million to the jail. They don’t like tax increases for Maple Shade. They don’t like tax increases towards the county administration building. Let me tell you something, there’s been enough money, thrown away in this county, to start building schools.”

In a heated speech, Harless lambasted local government for “sitting on their thumbs” and that it was his belief that too much money was being spent by local government on itself. He also indicated that action needed to be taken on behalf of getting the schools replaced or improved. Harless apologized at the end “if I got out of hand, but I have heard excuses, excuses, excuses. I apologize, but that’s it.”

“At this time we will conclude our public meeting. We certainly appreciate you all coming out. One of the things that’s real good to hear—I haven’t heard one single person think that we should sit and do nothing. And so we appreciate you all coming out and we appreciate you all speaking, and thank you.”

After the meeting, Brewster said, “I’m glad that it was spirited and that people are passionate enough to come out and speak about our schools. The decision is, what direction do we go in?”







13 Responses to Public feedback meeting for OWPR school study heated

  1. PC Parent

    July 24, 2013 at 11:49 am

    With regard to combining the middle schools, could anyone enlighten me to what the issues were with the last consolidation attempt?

    Are those issues still seen when kids move from the middle school to the high school?

  2. Laura Easter

    July 24, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    I am a parent of children who attend Pulaski County Schools. I will have to say that I am very disappointed in our local, elected officals that can not just set a presidence for our county’s future, (our children). This should be a no brainer, they had no problem raising our taxes to pay for the new jail, or spending funds on there own “offices”. It would be a shame to see parents take there kids across the bridge to Radford City schools and pay a small tuition to see them in a safe enviroment. Look at it like this, if this was a parent who lived in these conditions with paint chipping, walls cracking, block falling from walls and ceilings, etc, etc.. The parent could potentially face endangerment charges of the child and the living quarters would be condemened. Are these standards not the same for our officals who we look to keep our children out of harms way.


    July 24, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    It is pretty awful to think that when you walk into your child’s school and it looks just like it did when you were a student 25 years ago.I would be more than glad to pay more taxes if the money indeed would go to building new schools. I am a firm believer that the surroundings in which the children are in does influence every aspect of their lives. My child will not benefit from a new middle school, but as I stated before, I would be more than happy to pay more taxes to benefit the children of Pulaski County.

  4. Concerned

    July 24, 2013 at 6:24 pm

    I was unable to attend the meeting so first off, I would like to thank Shannon Watkins for this article with some of the actual comments made that evening. I have always loved living in Pulaski County regardless of the bad reputation but this is ridiculous. How can Pulaski County ever correct their reputation if they are more worried about putting tax money elsewhere than into the future of the county! Give these kids a good school to go to, give them top of the line education so they go to college and WANT to come back to Pulaski and make great contributions to the community! So they WANT their kids to attend these schools! Pulaski will never grow if we don’t get these new schools. If I were looking to move to this area with kids, the first thing I would look at are the schools and in the condition of these three schools that would be enough for me to choose Radford City or Montgomery County. Someone could move to the Fairlawn area for the new elementary school but then they will still be faced with the problem of the middle schools as the children get older. A previous comment mentioned people would take their children to another district and pay the tuition but in many cases, people would move to the new district and then the county is losing out on even more tax money. Why stay in a county and pay taxes when you can move and at least know your tax money is going to help support the schools your children are attending? The leaders are so concerned about the money and tax increases but if children are injured due to poor parking lot conditions, floors falling out, ceilings caving or whatever else may happen in these old schools, I would think a couple hundred lawsuits could hurt the county as well.

  5. Charles Wade

    July 24, 2013 at 6:30 pm

    I have visited both middle schools and although both are a long way from a great learning environment, I believe the PMS is the worst. Since I do not consider myself an expert in determining if either are a safe environment for our young people, why don’t our building official inspect both schools to determine if there exists any state code violations.

  6. Daniel Albert

    July 25, 2013 at 3:28 am

    I think this the best thing to do is 1st see what money the county has to put toward the schools or school.. A real honest #.. See the bid’s that was given.. Let the public see the information first hand,, By way of mail or website.. and I bet you the whole county will have good idea’s of coming up with the money needed for the schools.. Don’t have to raise taxes every time something need to be built… There’s a lot of good business out there that would help if people started asking for it… Look at the tornado’s help money raised,, There’s all kinds of ways of raising money, Maybe a concert by a well known singer or group or donations by people or business’s We do need to do something about the schools ASAP that for sure.

  7. Rob

    July 25, 2013 at 8:50 am

    I place blame on the board of supervisors because for the past 25 years they have focused on the jail, the dump and the commerce park. Our county now has criminals, trash and an almost empty 1000 acre park. I do appreciate the new business coming soon but that is hardly enough to make up for the lack of focus placed on the schools. Has anyone mentioned selling off county property. Also, where is all of the money from the Fairgrounds going?

  8. Concerned

    July 25, 2013 at 10:50 am

    I, too, attended PMS in the late 80s. It was a dump of a building then. I do not see the tax base or population in either Town to support $30+ million dollar middle schools. The high school was raggedy. The school board should budget the appropriate money to maintain the buildings once they are built. They let them fall down and then blame the county board for not building a new school. Now two really old middle schools are past their useful life. That is just sad.

  9. J.R. Bowles

    July 25, 2013 at 11:38 am

    Nice informative article although even after googling OWPR, I still haven’t figured out what it stands for other than it’s part of an architectural and engineering firm.

    This article reminds me of an old joke about, how many Virginia’s does it take to change a lightbulb?

    Eight. One to change it and seven to say how nice the old one was.

    The problem with Pulaski is ‘apathy’ but who care?

  10. Take Charge

    July 27, 2013 at 12:38 pm

    The taxpayers need to take back their County! Look at what they have spent out on shell buildings. For what? It is time for the people of this County to do some house cleaning. Rome fell and this County will too if something isn’t done. They need to change their thinking and now before it is too late. The High School was paid off sometime back but the taxpayers didn’t hear much about that, where is that money. They want to hire someone outside for advice to help them with their money problems at $50,000.00. We can give the jail all that money and build a county garage at about two millon,spend all that money on the Tomato Park. This is just few of a long list and we can’t get our heads together on our kids future. Pretty Bad and Pretty Sad ( I’m watching you to see what you do )

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