IW school board approves calendar, discusses high school renovations

Published 11:11 am Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Isle of Wight County School Board voted to approve the division’s 2017-2018 academic calendar and received a first look at the division’s educational plans for Windsor and Smithfield high schools during their regular scheduled school board meeting, held Thursday at 6 p.m. in the board room of the Isle of Wight County Courthouse Complex.

The 2017-2018 calendar was approved unanimously despite the objection of April Spratley, president of the Isle of Wight Education Association, who spoke during citizens’ time to ask that the board vote down the calendar on the grounds that the proposed extra training days may reduce the division’s competitiveness in attracting and retaining teachers.

The calendar specifies a total of 190 work days for returning teachers who have already completed their professional development, 196 days for teachers who have not completed professional development training, and 198 days for first-year teachers, with training in August.

The calendar will give all teachers two weeks off for Christmas, which Assistant Superintendent Heather Tuck said was one of the main things teachers who were surveyed earlier this year wanted.

Tuck also presented the educational plans for WHS and SHS to the board, which included proposed expansions for both high schools.

The WHS educational plan includes proposals for a new cafeteria, with the old cafeteria seating to be sent to Westside Elementary once renovations are complete; an enhanced outdoor dining area with canopies; transforming the second cafeteria at WHS into a collaborative space where students can work together and also eat lunch, similar to the commons area at SHS; opening up and redesigning the school’s media center/library to be more like a university or Barnes and Noble book store, with a sound studio and presentation area; moving the projection booth for the auditorium higher up; adding a cosmetology program utilizing existing space, and offering cosmetology certifications so students can be career-ready right out of high school; creating a construction lab outdoors for Building Trades I and II courses where students can learn to build homes and buildings; building a new 40-foot by 80-foot greenhouse complete with aquaponics and hydroponics; redesigning the art courtyard and creating an amphitheater-like outdoor classroom space.

The plan also specifies using the vacant field behind Windsor Elementary School to build a farm to extend agricultural classes with real-life experience. The farm would include a barn, stables, a classroom, an office, a chicken coop and goats.

The SHS educational plan also includes proposals for a new cafeteria with a more restaurant-like setting, a new library/media center with a poetry slam area where students could read aloud, a fitness/exercise room, and renovations to what will become Smithfield High’s new career building, currently listed on maps of the campus as the E Building.

The new SHS career building will include a restaurant and catering business open to the public, to be run by culinary arts students; a health sciences academy for Nurse’s Aide I and II courses; a maker’s space with 3D printers, C&C machines and vinyl cutters for courses such as Manufacturing I and II; a welding lab where students will eventually be able to earn their Manufacturing Technician (MT) certification; a mechatronics lab; a warehouse that will serve all Isle of Wight County schools and be run by students, who will be able to obtain their forklift certifications; a new Junior ROTC field house with a classroom, practice room, office and storage room; a new football field house with home and guest team locker rooms and a weight room; and a multi-use pavilion located to the back of the career building, which will be open to the public for student expos and will include a food preparation area for culinary arts students to do catering.

To pay for these extensive renovations, the division will use funds saved by ending its participation with the Pruden Center in Suffolk, which IWCS spokeswoman Lynn Briggs estimates to have been just under $1 million per year. The division will also ask the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors for $750,000 of debt service, since the savings from Pruden won’t be realized all at once.

The renovations to Smithfield’s campus will also be partially funded by a $3 million grant that Smithfield Foods made to the division earlier in the day Thursday. The total cost of the renovations to Windsor High School’s campus is estimated to be around $3 million, and will come from the same revenue streams as the SHS renovations, minus the grant from Smithfield Foods. The renovations to Smithfield’s campus will cost approximately $10 million.

“The school division cannot assume debt; it has to be through the county,” Briggs said.

According to Isle of Wight Supt. Dr. Jim Thornton, the division hopes to have some of the career training facilities at both schools open as early as December of next year. He added that he expects to be able to meet all costs without passing anything along to taxpayers.

The board was also presented with a first look at the division’s employee benefits and compensation plan study, which identified the main concern that full-time employees had was the cost and quality of their health insurance. Consensus among employees surveyed, according to the committee the division organized to conduct the study, was that premiums were too high, deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses were too high, and the network was poor.

The study also suggested pre-loading $1,200 in employees’ health savings accounts in October rather than contributing once per week, and introducing a weight incentive plan where employees who meet goals receive cash or additional contributions to their HSAs.

Salaries were not the main focus of the study but the committee also investigated the impact of a 2 percent raise across the board, which would cost the division approximately $590,000. Of that, $411,113 would be for teachers, $105,177 would be for administrators, and $73,836 would be for support staff.

Several school nurses in the division also requested raises based on education and experience during the survey. The committee found that IWCS nurses’ pay falls $2,000 below the average mid-point of Region II, which includes neighboring school divisions, based on experience, and proposed to offer a stipend for those with bachelor’s degrees.

The final pay and benefits topic the committee investigated was whether to offer an early retirement incentive program. The study concluded that employees eligible for full retirement benefits often do not retire because they need to keep their health insurance coverage. The proposed early retirement incentive program, in which retired teachers would substitute for 25 days, is expected to save the division approximately $3,232,000.

“The retirees are able to continue on our health insurance plan at the group rate, which they don’t have access to once they retire,” Briggs said. “The cost for a sub with a teaching license is $129 per day. Multiplied by 25 days, using a retiree, we save the amount listed [$3,232,000.]”

The board concluded by discussing the division’s proposed operational budget for fiscal year 2017-2018 and proposed changes to the division’s field trip policies, which would do away with the practice of charging students to go on field trips and participate in athletics.

In other business, the board approved the division’s Windsor gym lease, personnel report and board protocols unanimously. All members of the board serving as of Jan. 1, including former Carrsville representative Robert Eley, received certificates in honor of school board member appreciation month, which Gov. Terry McAuliffe recently proclaimed a state month of recognition during February. School board clerk Tracy Reutt was also awarded a certificate in conjunction with McAuliffe’s proclamation of Feb. 20-24 as school board clerk appreciation week.

The Isle of Wight School Board will hold a public hearing to receive citizen input on their proposed FY 2017-2018 division operating budget on Wednesday, Feb. 22 at 6 p.m. in the cafeteria of Windsor Elementary School. The board will also hold a work session March 2 at 9 a.m. in the school board office, and plans to approve the budget during their March 9 meeting at 6 p.m. at the Isle of Wight Courthouse complex.