IW school board adopts legislative priorities for 2020

Published 7:13 pm Friday, November 29, 2019

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...


Repealing a cap on school support staff, fully funding all state mandates and allowing local school divisions greater flexibility in offering dual enrollment (college credit) high school courses are among the changes Isle of Wight County Schools would like to see made to Virginia’s public education system during the 2020 General Assembly session.

The county’s school board voted unanimously at its Nov. 14 meeting to adopt the aforementioned list of legislative priorities. According to IWCS spokeswoman Lynn Briggs, the next step in communicating IWCS’s desires to Richmond is for the division to send a letter, and the aforementioned list, to each legislator representing Isle of Wight County in the General Assembly.

Regarding the cap on support staff, Briggs explained that the state had removed funding for some support staff positions during the Great Recession, which, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, officially lasted from December 2007 to June 2009. According to IWCS’s adopted list of priorities, the support staff cap “disproportionately limits the capacity of Isle of Wight County Schools to serve students with special needs, at-risk students, English learners, etc.,” and argues that “Instructional Assistants and other classroom supports are a cost-effective way to put caring adults in the lives of our most needy students, but the Support Staff Cap arbitrarily excludes the actual cost of educating a challenged population.”

“Since the economy has picked back up, that cap has not been lifted,” Briggs said.

As for funding all state mandates, the IWCS priorities list states that over the last several sessions of the General Assembly, many new training requirements have been imposed on school divisions, such as seclusion and restraint of students and school safety training. The document then argues that, “These new training requirements have a local cost and should be accompanied by state funds to assist IWCS with implementing these new state requirements … to prevent burdening localities with the additional cost, or to prevent eliminating key items from the division’s budget in order to fund requirements.”

The division is also requesting more funding to implement “proven methods of preventing and addressing misbehaviors at all levels that lead to suspension and expulsion,” claiming that, “IWCS has seen an increase in behavioral issues that will require funding for strategic solutions.” The document further states that, “Funding provided in the current state budget will not meet the new school counselor ratios passed by the General Assembly during the 2019 session, nor will it enable school divisions to meet the requirement that 80 precent of counselor time be spent in delivering direct services to students.”

“Mandates are always partially funded,” Briggs explained. “They [the General Assembly] use the Composite Index to figure out the local ability to pay … we did receive some funding to add the counselors [last school year].”

She added that IWCS did hire enough guidance counselors last school year to comply with the new requirement.

When asked about the alleged uptick in behavioral issues at IWCS, Briggs said, “Sometimes, it’s just a student transition to school. Sometimes we see it with our kindergarteners depending on what readiness experiences they’ve had … just as a general statement, I think we’re seeing more social and emotional concerns with students, and I don’t think that’s unique to Isle of Wight County.”

As for the final priority — greater flexibility to offer dual enrollment courses — Briggs explained that currently, IWCS students pay no tuition to take DE courses, because courses are taught at each high school by IWCS teachers who have completed the certification to teach DE courses. But this practice may change, she said, since it has resulted in IWCS only being able to offer a limited number of DE courses. This is because few IWCS teachers have completed the DE certification process, which she said requires teachers to take 18 credit hours beyond their master’s degrees in the subject of the DE course they wish to teach.

“We have a lot of teachers that have master’s degrees, but they’re in education or administration,” Briggs said. “We don’t have the same number of teachers with 18 credit hours beyond their master’s degree in social studies … or English.”