Isle of Wight School Board’s adopted budget seeks $2.79 million increase from county
Published 7:47 am Monday, April 3, 2023
Isle of Wight County’s School Board is still looking for a multimillion-dollar funding increase from county taxpayers for the coming school year, but not as big of an increase as Superintendent Theo Cramer requested.
The School Board voted unanimously on March 22 to adopt a roughly $88.1 million 2023-24 budget, $29.6 million of which would come from the county. The request amounts to a $2.79 million, or roughly 10%, increase over the $26.8 million the county contributed for the current school year.
Cramer had proposed an $81 million general fund budget in February that sought a nearly $5 million increase from the county. Board of Supervisors Chairman William McCarty said at a March 2 joint meeting of the School Board and supervisors that the then-$5 million increase would equate to a 10-cent hike in the county’s real estate tax rate.
According to IWCS spokeswoman Lynn Briggs, the $88.1 million is the combined total from the division’s general fund, grants fund, food services fund, textbook fund, health insurance fund and capital maintenance fund.
The largest single driver of the $2.79 million increase is $1.1 million allocated for state-mandated 5% raises for school personnel.
Isle of Wight will receive state funding to cover the salary increase for the minimum number of positions required under the Virginia Department of Education’s standards of quality, or SOQs. As of October, Isle of Wight was required to employ 537.24 SOQ-funded positions but had 739 total employees. Most school divisions in the state hire more teachers than the minimum required.
Cramer’s February proposal included funding for elementary school cafeteria monitors and five new unarmed school security officers at Isle of Wight’s two high schools, all of which the board voted to cut from the adopted March 22 budget.
Girls on the Run defunded
The board also defunded a $40,000 contribution to the Girls on the Run program, a relatively small component of the overall budget that had drawn opposition from two board members.
Isle of Wight County Schools has participated in the nonprofit program for the past three years. According to its website, Girls on the Run enhances elementary and middle school girls’ social, emotional and physical skills through a curriculum that incorporates running.
According to Ellen Carver, executive director of Girls on the Run’s Hampton Roads chapter, the contribution would largely have paid stipends to the school system’s coaches. The program’s discounted $23-per-girl fee for schools has never cost Isle of Wight more than $3,000 in a single year, Carver said at a March 9 School Board meeting.
Board Chairman John Collick, in February, took issue with the concept of putting public money toward a nonprofit. Vice Chairman Jason Maresh also stated in February that he would “not support spending taxpayers’ money” on Girls on the Run and characterized the program’s stated focus on “systemic disparities” as “divisive” in a 2022 letter to the editor of The Smithfield Times. Maresh was one of three board members to vote in March for a policy that bans teaching on “systemic racism.”
Girls on the Run “teaches critical thinking skills, not Critical Race Theory,” Carver said at the March 9 meeting, referring to the college-level legal theory that asserts American laws and institutions have perpetuated inequalities among minorities.
The term, often abbreviated CRT, has become a hot-button political topic over the past two years, with Gov. Glenn Youngkin issuing an executive order in 2022 banning “divisive concepts, including Critical Race Theory” from public schools.
Despite the School Board’s defunding of the program, Isle of Wight families will still be able to participate in Girls on the Run at their own expense using a non-discounted rate.
“The fee to families will be new and some of our families will be shocked by that because the program has been free to them for three years,” Carver said on March 9.
10 instructional assistants eliminated
Cramer’s proposal had called for $645,120 to continue the salaries of 20 first- and second-grade instructional assistants hired two years ago with now-expiring federal pandemic relief funds. The board voted to halve the figure to $322,560 to keep 10 of the positions.
The board also cut $146,000 earmarked for two new “dean of students” positions that would handle discipline matters at Smithfield and Windsor high schools, but decided to repurpose two unfilled teaching positions to hire the two deans without adding to the budget.
The board took a similar approach to funding a requested career and technical education coordinator position and new patient care technician CTE program. Repurposing a current unfilled coordinator position at Isle of Wight County Schools’ central office will allow the school system to hire a CTE coordinator without increasing the budget. The new patient care technician program, which would have carried a cost of $80,000 for an extra teacher and roughly $25,000 for furniture, will be delayed, with only a “partial implementation” this coming school year.
Maresh’s February request to place drug- and gun-sniffing K-9s in Isle of Wight’s schools also went unfunded.
Isle of Wight County supervisors will need to vote on the requested $29.6 local funding request by the end of the current fiscal year on June 30. The county’s budget calendar calls for an April 20 public hearing and adoption of the county’s overall budget, to include its school funding, on May 11.