City, County, School Board to meet Friday

For two hours Friday morning, the top decision makers for James City County, Williamsburg and the school division will be packed into a back room at the School Board Central Office complex.

Members of City Council, Board of Supervisors and the Williamsburg-James City County School Board are holding their annual joint meeting a month earlier than last year's gathering.

The meeting is an effort at transparency, so the public can see the collaboration between all three governing bodies, county Board of Supervisors Chairman Kevin Onizuk said.

James City County and Williamsburg are the largest funding forces behind the school division. At the annual joint meeting, the school board instigates discussions with the county Board of Supervisors and the City Council on relevant topics.

This year that means updates on the fourth middle school being built, the auxiliary gym planned for Lafayette High School and the fiscal year 2018 budget.

"It's just us updating our funding partners on critical issues impacting the schools — major construction projects, our budget outlook — and keeping the lines of communication open," School Board Chairwoman Kyra Cook said. "To let them know that we're interested what they think."

Schools superintendent Olwen Herron first presented her proposed fiscal year 2018 budget to the School Board on Feb. 21, a budget Chief Financial Officer Christina Berta repeatedly said was "tight."

"I hope that we're able to find some common ground on what the city and the county will be able to fund out of the school system's proposed budget and how we're going to be able to make up a shortfall, if there is one," Williamsburg Mayor Paul Freiling said.

In the meetings since Feb. 21, the School Board has cut the $1.4 million gap between expected revenue from the state, city and county and planned expenditures closer to $800,000. Removed from the plan were the replacement of two school buses and the expansion of the Pathways program to Jamestown and Lafayette high schools.

Added in was a spousal surcharge for them to be covered on employee health insurance. The School Board will approve a final budget at their regular meeting March 21 or at a special meeting March 28.

Herron has acknowledged that she's asking for $5 million more than last year's budget, but she maintains the division must ask for a budget of need.

"I think what I'd like to get out of it is a better understanding of the vision of the new superintendent, where she is planning to go with the schools and the expectations from the city and county for us to be able to support her vision," Onizuk said.

The agenda also dedicates 30 minutes to the fourth middle school discussion. Being built behind the School Board Central Office complex, phase one of construction is estimated to cost $26 million and be completed in June 2018.

Phase two will come in the mid-2020s. In the 2018-27 capital improvement plan approved by the School Board in December, another $2.2 million is planned for the design in 2025 and $15.2 million in 2026 for construction.

The CIP plan is now is the hands of City Council and the Board of Supervisors for approval and a final version will be voted on by the School Board in May.

When the buildings at the James Blair site were knocked down last summer to make room for the fourth middle school, the gym where some Lafayette High School athletes practiced, due to a lack of their own space, went with it.

The auxiliary gym at Lafayette is in the design phase with a bid for construction expected to go out this month or next. Estimates from HBA Architecture last spring put final costs around $2.5 million.

Ten minutes of the meeting is devoted to that update and discussion. There is not a public comment section at the joint meeting.

Williams can be reached by phone at 757-345-2341.

Want to go?

9 a.m. March 17 in Room 300 in the Annex at the School Board and Central Office at 117 Ironbound Road.

On the agenda: Fiscal year 2018 budget, Fourth Middle School construction update, Lafayette High School Auxiliary Gym design update

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