Supervisors praised for support of school funding

Published 9:50 am Wednesday, May 21, 2014

COURTLAND—Southampton County residents who spoke on Monday during the public hearing on the County’s proposed $56.2 million budget were there chiefly to express their gratitude to the Board of Supervisors for its support shown to the schools. As it stands, $11.5 million of the local funds will be dedicated to the school system, which has a $31.2 million budget for fiscal year 2014-2015. Several new teachers, a 2 percent cost of living raise and five new buses could be realized with this and $19 million in state and federal aid.

Linda Drake of Newsoms, who teaches at-risk 4-year-olds at Meherrin Elementary School, was the first of several speakers at the Southampton High School auditorium.

“I simply want to say thank you,” said Drake, who mentioned that she has a daughter graduating from the high school this year. “She has been given so many opportunities through this school system. We appreciate your support in the future.”

Allene Atkinson said about serving as principal at Southampton High School that, “It has been a privilege, and it has been an honor. I thank you for the support you have shown in the past and most especially for this year. I stand here feeling very thankful. You are investing very well.”

She added that offering the salary increase will help in keeping or attracting new teachers because, “We must be competitive.”

Atkinson also noted that the high school has been fully accredited for 12 years and this would be the 13th. Further, at commencement this June there will be 82 honor graduates, including Drake’s daughter.

Dr. Alvera Parrish said she was speaking not just as the school division’s superintendent, “but also as a proud resident of Southampton County. I’m a resident of Courtland and I want to say what a great year it’s been in this budget process. We all dread the budget season, but it’s been very collaborative. I consider all of us to be on the same side. I feel really good about the budget season this year.”

Capron Elementary’s Dr. Allison Francis said she was speaking not as a principal, but as a parent. “I thank the board for its past and continued support.”

Two of her three children are graduates from this school system, and her son will the third and last from the high school. She credited the Southampton schools in part for why her children are so successful.

“You [the BOS] are investing in our future when you do.”

Florence Reynolds, who reminded the board she’s often been before the members in the past, said she came not to be “the squeaky wheel.”

She noted that one of her children works in a Washington, D.C., law firm for intellectual property rights, and another child is an entrepreneur and Both are graduates of the school system.

“Tonight I will surprise you,” said Reynolds. “Thank you so much for working for the school system. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

But school funding was not the sole concern. Other residents spoke up for the Blackwater Regional Library system, asking that it also be fully supported; the department request is for $227,631.

“I’m here to support our libraries and school systems,” said Dawn Gunn. “These are vital institutes. Our library provides so much for so many. We hope you are able to fulfill their requests for money. I can think of no better to spend time than a public library.”

“I have a great relationship with the Rawls Library,” added Rachel Pope of Drewryville, who teaches pre-K. “Please consider funding the library.”

Among those residents giving thanks, but for a different reason, was Carl Garner, president of the Southampton Fire and Rescue Association. He noted that six students from Ivor are certified as Firefighter 1’s and three are at the Jefferson College of Health Sciences in Roanoke.

“My department has benefitted greatly. Thank you for listening to us. I think you’ve all realized the need is there. I thank you for all your support,” said Garner.

John Burchette of Sebrell was no less pleased than others about school funding.

“It’s just amazing to me. It makes me feel so good. It’s a godsend and I hope we all realize it. Dr. [Paul Wm.] Conco of Paul D. Camp Community College said that Southampton leads Tidewater in preparation of children for college…Your support is a sea change. I hope it’s not just because we got a lot of money dumped on us.”

However, Burchette took issue that the tax rate could go up to 77 cents. A 2-cent increase in the real estate tax rate is proposed, with the money intended to support fire and EMS operations.

Further, “I’m not as optimistic as Mr. [Dallas] Jones as far as our ability to get rid of the $200 trash fee. I don’t think you’ll ever get rid of it.”

Burchette suggested decreasing the sheriff’s budget and dropping the 2-cent increase.

In turn, the supervisors thanked the public for coming out to speak on the budget.

“It’s certainly easier this year than in the past,” said Bruce Phillips. “It’s a process we have worked toward. This year we have a little bit more to work with.”

“I’ve talked to a lot of people in my district and other districts,” said Barry Porter. “They said, ‘Support the schools.’ We listen to what you say. I badgered Mr. [Michael] Johnson. You could find $100 here or $100 there, but not $300,000 without curtailing services that we need. I think we’ve come through on that promise. Another thing we can’t nickel and dime is our law enforcement. Many of us have looked at this budget really closely…Believe it or not, people up here work really hard.”

Fellow supervisor Glenn Updike expressed his displeasure with the budget and proposed tax increase.

“Nobody seemed to be concerned about the taxpayers,” he said. “These people are having a hard time. We just don’t realize.”

Further, “We should get our reserve fund back where it should be.”

He later told The Tidewater News that “there should be 10 to 15 percent in the reserve fund for emergencies and support of payments for budget expenses. We’re down to 5 or 6 percent, less than half of what it should be.”

County Administrator Michael Johnson said that Updike was perhaps thinking of the total budget.

“We are at 12 percent [in reserves] of operating budget, which is right in range,” he said.

But all the requests and plans for funding could be threatened if the state doesn’t come through.

The news from Richmond is that not only has the General Assembly not yet passed a budget, but a $300 million shortfall has also been announced.

Passing the Southampton County budget “is really the only option,” said Johnson. Adding that it will be passed with the assumption that the money will come through, and if not, the county will make adjustments as required.

The supervisors voted to forego the work session on Tuesday, and will vote on the budget at the regular monthly board meeting, which will take place at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 27.