“What we’ve done for the past 10 years is rob Peter to pay Paul,” the Botetourt County Schools Superintendent said. “These departments have done an amazing job trying to find money to fix things that really need to be fixed. After a while, when you start delaying things for 10 years, you can’t find that money. You just can’t, because the buildings will start to crumble.
The Botetourt Superintendent who spoke those words was not the current man, Jonathan Russ, but his predecessor, Lisa Chen, during a presentation in March 2020 on the system’s brand new capital improvement plan. school. She said at the time that school staff had identified about $2.5 million in urgent capital improvement needs “to keep our buildings safe.”
At the start of the 2022-23 school year, not only did the level of need escalate, but a strange confusion ripped hope for a quick fix with the speed at which Lucy pushes football out of Charlie Brown’s way. .
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To put it simply, when it comes to the $4.5 million line item for capital improvements in the 2022-2023 school budget, apparently the school district and county government each assumed the other was dealing with — or that state or federal funds were somehow filling the hole. But in fact, this crucial position had no source of funding.
At an Aug. 11 meeting, Botetourt County School Board Chair Anna Weddle noted that the board had established a formal 2020 capital improvement plan — the plan that former superintendent Chen was discussing at the meeting. of that live meeting two years earlier. Weddle lamented, “It hasn’t been funded every year, making this the third year without capital improvements funding.”
No reasonable person should consider this acceptable. For example, school board member Jenny Wilson described how a lack of funding for improving school facilities means that the most prominent feature of the Buchanan Elementary School playground is “a big pile of ground in a playground with masking tape”. She was right that a new business prospect would find it a big turn off.
Rather than focusing too much on this unfortunate and debilitating misunderstanding, let’s move the camera back to get a wider view. Aging and crumbling school buildings are a $25 billion problem throughout Virginia, especially in rural and downtown areas, and it was only this year that a determined handful of lawmakers managed to push their colleagues in the General Assembly to act. So far, that action involves setting aside $400 million for base grants to be allocated to school districts, of which Botetourt is expected to receive just over $2 million, which frankly in today’s economy doesn’t not pay a lot of construction. Botetourt can also apply for competitive grants for the construction of schools on the road, although this cannot be counted as money in the bank.
Virginia’s typical system of county government, in which elected school boards lack the ability to fund their own budgets and must rely on an elected board of oversight to access the county purse, creates an adversarial relationship which often results in chronic stagnation, especially in conservative rural areas. localities where the number one directive of a given supervisor of voters will be to keep taxes as low as possible.
However, anyone who wishes to portray the problems of the school system in these counties as entirely self-inflicted should know that building a new school these days can range from $26 million for a primary to over $100 million. for a high school, expensive items. many southwestern Virginia counties could not afford easily, even though they taxed their citizens to the gills. That’s why the state legislature must set aside the tradition of leaving funding for school construction to local governments and get involved.
Focusing on Botetourt County, Weddle said school and county officials are meeting to make sure this budget mistake doesn’t happen again. We propose that the county benefits from a meeting of minds at an even higher level. Perhaps supervisors and the school board should get together to discuss how the problem of funding the Botetourt Schools Capital Improvement Budget can be permanently resolved, and where that money could come from. if the county doesn’t have it. A safe and modern school system should be a common goal.
Maybe Del. Terry Austin, R-Botetourt, a powerful vice-chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and with an excellent reputation for getting things done, could provide advice to councils.
Public schools in Roanoke County have benefited from such meetings as supervisors and school board members worked on a plan to replace the 60-year-old Burton Center for Arts and Technology, a vital part of educational provision. of the county which needs to be modernized urgently. Botetourt County is overdue for a similar breakthrough.