Building a new Windsor Middle School makes little sense

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, December 22, 2010

by Herb DeGroft

Isle of Wight County decision-makers need to face facts when considering the notion that a new Windsor Middle School is needed.

After all, citizens elected them to be good stewards of their tax dollar use. The Isle of Wight supervisors need to consider the following, which the majority of the board has not.

• Isle of Wight has a shortfall of about $6 million in tax revenue for 2011-12 and for future years.

• Isle of Wight’s timely replacement of lost revenue due to businesses and industries closing and downsizing is unknown.

• In Isle of Wight, real estate tax increases will be needed to replace lost tax revenue, possibly as much as 25 percent for 2012.

• A tax increase during a recession is economically unsound, particularly when the county is not growing economically, with any certain relief in sight.

• Any debt service increase has to be a fiscal concern in a time of uncertain tax revenue collections.

• Isle of Wight County Schools’ debt repayment is currently just under $5 million annually, about 8 percent of its budget.

• The Isle of Wight County school superintendent estimates an education funding reduction from the federal government of $3 million to $3.5 million for 2012 on top of more than $6 million due to the loss if International Paper for a total loss of more than $9 million for school operations.

• Isle of Wight County Schools will have to repay an estimated more than $23 million for a new Windsor Middle School.

• Isle of Wight County Schools realistically has to close the present Windsor Middle School due to noted unsafe environmental issues affecting students and staff, or face potential litigation from those who claim negative health effects from exposure.

• The Isle of Wight County school superintendent last January recommended that Windsor Middle School be closed, and that its 104 sixth-graders be split between Carrsville and Windsor Elementary schools and 224 seventh- and eighth-graders be moved to the second floor of Windsor High School. The latter was originally built in the early 1990s to house middle and high school students.

• Isle of Wight County schools will realize lower transportation costs if Carrsville sixth-graders are not bused to Windsor Middle School.

• Isle of Wight County School superintendent last January estimated that closing Windsor Middle School would save $903,000 annually.

• Isle of Wight County Schools’ demographic study estimates fewer students will be living in the Carrsville/Windsor areas during the next decade. The study was completed pre-recession, pre-IP closing and pre-Smithfield Packing consolidation from two plants to one, resulting in the loss of 1,100 and more than 1500 jobs, respectively, in Isle of Wight County.

I strongly recommend the Isle of Wight County Schools demographic study findings of 2008 be updated before a final decision is made to take on an additional $23 million debt, since the facts and data do not support doing so.

At least then the officials who will be making that decision will be doing so with complete up-to-date details in regards to the number of school-age children. The Weldon-Cooper Center at the University of Virginia can do this in a timely manner, if requested by Isle of Wight County.

Common sense based on sound facts and figures has to trump emotions. In this case, I think there is no basis for a new stand-alone Windsor Middle School, now or in the foreseeable future. This decision has to be looked at in broad detail, not with tunnel vision.

My unemotional decision is not to recommend any additional debt and subsequent tax burden be taken on by Isle of Wight taxpayers, unnecessarily, on this issue, or any other — whether there is a recession or the best of economic times.

HERB DeGROFT of Smithfield represents the Hardy District on the Isle of Wight County School Board. His e-mail address is