School Board Members Ask Residents To Speak Up

Shenandoah County Officials Eye Budget

Posted: January 24, 2014

WOODSTOCK — As the Shenandoah County School Board makes budget decisions during the next few months, members have called for parents and residents to speak up about their wishes for a stronger school system.

At a budget work session on Wednesday night, school board members discussed the positive feedback they have heard from county residents, both personally and at a public comment session earlier this month.

Although the school division hears parents’ requests for more funding and resources loud and clear, it does not have taxing authority to increase the amount of money available for its budget. The Board of Supervisors must approve how much local funding is provided to public schools.

The school system’s budget for the current fiscal year is about $55.9 million. About $23.6 million of that was funded by the county, with the rest of the money coming from state and federal sources.

The division has yet to release a preliminary figure for its fiscal 2015 spending plan, which will go into effect July 1.

School board members Katie Freakley and Kathryn Holsinger said Wednesday night that now is the time for residents to speak up at supervisors’ meetings. Supervisors will soon start to make decisions about the county’s budget and whether taxes will be raised.

During the work session, Shenandoah Schools Superintendent Jeremy Raley gave a presentation highlighting the division’s biggest needs, many of which come with price tags. The priorities include carefully watching classroom sizes, which may spike in certain grades next year.

Raley suggested the board consider budgeting for a contingency teacher who can be added to any school at the beginning of the year if class sizes demonstrate a need for one. In the past, if the number of students changed significantly after the budgeting process ends, teachers have been stuck with larger classes because the money hasn’t been there to hire another faculty member last-minute.

Board members at the work session liked the idea of a contingency teacher.

“To me, it’s a no-brainer,” Holsinger said.

If the contingency teacher isn’t needed, Holsinger said the money could be returned to the county.

The division has a current enrollment of close to 6,200 students, according to Shenandoah County Public Schools website.

Raley projected class sizes at Sandy Hook in Strasburg Elementary School and W.W. Robinson Elementary School in Woodstock may grow based on current enrollment and staffing levels.

For example, a cohort of 175 fourth-graders at Sandy Hook is served by eight teachers, making classroom sizes of about 22 students. When that cohort moves into fifth grade, where there are only seven teachers, class sizes will increase to 25.

Holsinger said the class sizes for kindergarten at Sandy Hook are “disgraceful,” with about 22 students per class this school year and projected at 22 for next year.

Holsinger frequently advocates for smaller class sizes, saying at board meetings that it affects instruction when teachers have so many little ones to keep track of. It’s still a problem in older grades, but less of an issue when students are able to walk to the bathroom by themselves, she said on Wednesday.

Other priorities for the school district include offering more assistance to English language learners, who typically don’t perform as well on state assessments.

The division also wants to increase the Internet bandwidth available at schools. Schools are now maxing out their Internet usage several times per day, Raley said.

Contact Kassondra Cloos at 574-6290 or kcloos@dnronline.com



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