IW school board OKs options to keep classrooms open

Published 11:26 am Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Tracey and Andrew Ruett of Smithfield, in back, talk with Isle of Wight School Board members Kent Hildebrand and Robert Eley after the community meeting held Monday in The Smithfield Center. STEPHEN H. COWLES/TIDEWATER NEWS

Tracey and Andrew Ruett of Smithfield, in back, talk with Isle of Wight School Board members Kent Hildebrand and Robert Eley after the community meeting held Monday in The Smithfield Center. STEPHEN H. COWLES/TIDEWATER NEWS


ISLE OF WIGHT—Employee furloughs and contract cancellations are among the options the Isle of Wight County School Board has authorized Superintendent Katrise Perera to take for keeping schools open.

Early Monday morning, the board held an emergency meeting to form a plan on keeping classrooms operating through the end of the school year. This was in reaction to the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors allocating $750,000 out of a requested $2.3 million in carryover funds from fiscal year 2012-13.

During the supervisors’ discussion at Thursday’s meeting, one motion was made to grant $1.4 million, which was defeated. Kent Hildebrand of the school’s Newport District later told The Tidewater News that amount would have at least covered bills through May.

Windsor District Supervisor Delores “Dee Dee” Darden proposed what she called a compromise solution, which was unanimously accepted. Although Board Chairwoman JoAnn Hall of the Hardy District said she was doing so “under protest.”

During the Monday session, said school spokeswoman Kenita Bowers in a press release, the school’s Finance team, led by Christina Berta, acting Chief Financial Officer, gave an analysis of the fiscal year 2012-13 budget. It was also noted the schools had frozen spending earlier this year, which created money to cover operating expenses.

“Without additional funding from the Board of Supervisors, a deficit of approximately $1.3 million still remains,” Bowers said.

If money doesn’t come through, Perera is empowered to do the following:

• Cancellation of a landscaping contract for grass cutting and grounds maintenance for the remainder of this school year;

• Cancellation or reduction of Custodial Services for the remainder of this school year;

• Cancellation of all outstanding purchase orders for any goods or services not yet received;

• Reduction of all employee pay with 1-12 furlough days; and

• Reduction in force of all kindergarten aides as of Wednesday, May 1.

“This plan is contingent upon no catastrophic events taking place within the school division, which would cause further financial pressure,” Bowers said.

“As a school division we are committed to making decisions that are in the best interest of our students,” said Perera. “We will continue to work collaboratively with the Board of Supervisors in an effort to maintain financial stability within our school division.”

During a community meeting at The Smithfield Center, members of both boards sat before parents and teachers to answer questions about the school system, particularly where money is concerned.

John Edwards, publisher of The Smithfield Times, served as moderator for the approximately 150 people present.

“My vision for the schools is to particularly improve and expand on our already good reputation,” said Hall.

“I commend the teachers,” said Carrsville District Supervisor Rex Alphin. “My heart goes out to you. I want for Isle of Wight schools to be the best in the United States.”

“It’s all a question of money,” said Newport District Byron Bailey. “All of us would like to fund the schools every dime.”

Asked what effect the supervisors’ action will have on schools, Herb DeGroft of the schools Hardy District said it “impacts every aspect, including significant reductions.”

Hildebrand then outlined the aforementioned steps the board has authorized Perera.

“We’ve tried everything possible,” said Chairman Robert Eley of the schools Carrsville District. “The kids have to learn.”

Hall said she was under the assumption the $750,000 given would take the board through May.

“None of us want to close the schools,” she said. “It would be a huge blemish on Isle of Wight.”

Asked what’s been learned, Smithfield District Supervisor Al Casteen said, “Meetings are great, but it’s better if you listen. The schools didn’t listen.”

Casteen was referring to the proposed budget, which he noted is considerably higher than this year. In late December, early January, the supervisors had asked all departments to make five percent reductions in their budgets for next fiscal year.

“We didn’t submit a five percent decrease, and neither did any of the constitutional officers,” said Hildebrand in immediate reply. His comment drew applause from the audience.

“I hope we can find some compromise, and that the schools spend money wisely as possible to foster instruction,” Hall said.

Afterward, Colin Morris of Smithfield said he found the meeting “definitely informative.” He added, though, there was a lot of finger-pointing and wondered where was the accountability.

“I’m deeply concerned about what’s to become of my children’s education,” said Jennifer Fannon of Carrollton. She added that “everyone’s to blame for the money issue and they should take responsibility.”