Budget matters come before Southampton school board

Published 9:42 am Friday, February 17, 2017

The upcoming Fiscal Year 2017-2018 budget was brought up three different times during the Southampton County School Board meeting on Monday. The first point was made by Mandy Hall, who was the only person to speak during the public hearing seeking input for the budget. Her request was for the board to consider funding a full-time guidance counselor for the elementary schools.

She said that Wendi Simmons is dividing her time between Capron and Nottoway, so children don’t have access to her every day.

Calling such counselors “vital,” Hall said, “Forcing a guidance counselor to split her time is a disservice to our students and the teachers. They are a key part of the faculty, and wear so many hats to make the school run smoothly. They are an objective advocate for each student when it comes to emotional well-being, and serve a role that simply cannot be filled by teachers.”

She continued, “Emotional well-being is paramount for a child’s capacity to learn, and full time guidance counselors are required for schools to be able to support the student body in that way.

The full text of her remarks were printed on page A2 in Wednesday’s edition (“Guidance counselors are vital to school staff.”)

Dr. Gwendolyn Shannon, superintendent, then gave an update on the budet process. James Pope, board vice chairman, said it’s too early to comment.

He’s serving on a budget committee with Denise Bunn and Christopher Smith.

Shannon agreed, noting that there are three budget versions in the General Assembly: one from Gov. Terry McAuliffe, which could include 1.5 percent increase in salaries; the senate’s version; and the one from the house.

Last, but not least, board member William Worsham stated, “We’re in dire straits when it comes to bus transportation.” He figured that the county buses travel somewhere in the range of 681,590 miles annually; 3,787 daily.

There are 23 bus drivers with eligible retirement, and four mechanics running the routes, plus transportation coordinator Ruth Burch.

“Last year 13 bus drivers were lost — we could lose more,” Worsham continued. By lost he meant either retirement or they went to surrounding school divisions for more money. The county pays each driver $33.03 a day, which includes getting the students to school on time, driving safely and maintaining order.

“I think we need to take in serious consideration that there’s a crises of bus drivers … I’m asking the board tonight to solve this problem and consider the two-tier system,” he said. “The law of averages will catch up with us.”

Worsham also recommended the board investigate the Transfinder Program, which could run a two-tier system for bus routing.

“We need to look at this in seriousness,” he added, acknowledging that operation schedules would be different.

The board agreed that the discussion will be continued next month.