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Local School Systems Display Solidarity

Members of three local school boards and administrators stood shoulder to shoulder last week, announcing a joint resolution that called for state and federal lawmakers to make K-12 education a priority. The way to do that said Roanoke County, Roanoke City and Salem school board members, is by finding offsetting budget cuts elsewhere.

Roanoke City, which has adopted a preliminary budget that could see more than 140 people let go, programs slashed and schools closed (Round Hill the most likely candidate) could see state funding cuts of up to 16 million, although that is considered a worst-case scenario. Roanoke County faces more than eight million in cuts while the smaller Salem system expects around two million dollars of funding to disappear. (State lawmakers could amend the budget recently adopted during a veto session next month.)

Roanoke City School Board chairman David Carson would not rule out the possibility of a law suit – if they can build a case that the Commonwealth has constitutionally failed in its duty to fund education.  “After cuts last year, 88 positions [not refilled], closing schools, it doesn’t leave much besides personnel.  Less teachers, more students,” said Carson. He added that fewer educators were being asked to do more as standards become more difficult. “At some point you [have] to play fair.”

Carson said he was afraid everyone would “wake up” six months from now, realizing they had made a mistake that couldn’t be fixed, just as Roanoke was making academic strides. “I hope that folks have their eyes wide open … so we don’t get there.”

The resolution, read by Carson from the podium, urged state and federal legislators “to take whatever steps are necessary to make education a first priority, by considering bold and creative means.”

Roanoke County Schools Superintendent Lorraine Lange lent her support to the non-binding resolution: “we believe that children should come first. Let’s have the least amount of cuts for our students – because they are our future.” The county has already announced one school closing – Bent Mountain Elementary.

Salem City School Board chair Sally Southard supported that nation: “we truly ask that our children be spared. We need an educated work force in the valley and in order to do that we need educated students.”  Southard asked that any cuts be temporary, so that the state can restore funding once the economy does turn around. Southard wants lawmakers to look at other revenue sources for alternative sources of funding.

Carson said “every one” of the 32,000 students in the three school divisions could feel the impact of deep budget cuts next year. It leaves him feeling helpless and “desperate.” The Virginia Education Association has estimated that 15,000 or more educators could lose their jobs under the budget passed by the General Assembly.

By Gene Marrano
[email protected]

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