W-JCC passes FY20 budget, continues to discuss diversity

Staff writer

After spending the last several meetings discussing the finer details, the Williamsburg-James City County School Board voted to approve the superintendent’s proposed budget for FY20 at Tuesday nights meeting.

By a unanimous vote, and with little additional discussion, members of the School Board passed the proposed $142.5 million plan. The proposed budget includes a 4 percent salary increase for school employees, hiring a range of new support personnel, including special education teachers, security personnel and four new assistant principals for the middle schools, and a 1.5 percent increase in employee healthcare contribution addressing rising healthcare costs.

Vice chairwoman Julie Hummel praised the proposed budget for its work to bridge the salary gap and staffing differences between W-JCC and nearby localities, which had been a major concern of the board during planning.

“When we review the data for all of our performance scores and school conditions, we rank at or near the bottom of nearby localities in terms of offered salaries, number of guidance counselors, and so on,” she said. “We do so much with so little, and this budget goes a long way toward fixing, giving our teachers more, and giving our schools what they need to attract and retain staff in W-JCC.”

For board member Jim Kelly, additional staff members was a strong selling point.

“There are several parts of the budget which I am proud of, including the 4 percent salary increase for all staff, but especially the new staff positions,” he said. “More security officers and guidance counselors will make a difference, and for a community like ours, with so much history literally in our backyards, having a full-time social studies coordinator is overdue.”

If there were any complaints to be had they were directed toward Richmond, such as when board member James Beers pointed out that as state education requirements have increased, state funding has only gone down.

At our joint meeting last week, we were reminded by (John) McGlennon that over the past 10 years, state funding has only increased by $2 million in spite of the growing needs and changing standards our school system faces,” Beers said. “That leaves most of the burden funding our local school system on us.”

This plan will now be delivered to the Williamsburg City Council and the James City County Board of Supervisors for consideration.

In addition to passing the budget, there was another extended discussion during public comments regarding diversity within W-JCC schools, with several public commenters attending on behalf of the Village Initiative, a group seeking greater diversity among school staff.

“Did you ever have trouble concentrating because you were hungry in class? Or fear a teacher may underestimate you or look at you differently because of the color of your skin?” said Amy Quark. “These are just some of the issues facing our less-affluent and minority students, and why addressing the structural barriers facing them is so important.”

“Minority students are over-represented as a majority of both short and long term suspensions in every school in the district, in spite of only making up 38 percent of the district as a whole,” said Kayla Aaron. “This keeps minority students out of the classroom, and fuels the school to prison pipeline, and why the addition of new security officers with the new budget is an area of concern.”

In response, board member Kyra Cook reiterated that it’s an issue the School Board would need to look into.

“I appreciate and understand fears that more security officers may result in more discipline, but the point is to extend the admin coverage and safety, to act as school officials, not police officers,” Cook said. “As I said at our last meeting, this is an issue that we need to address in the future.”

Andrew Archibald came with some comments on the budget, but also with comments regarding another group he felt W-JCC needs to hire more of.

“For all the money in the budget for new computers and new textbooks, they won’t do us any good when the copiers are broken, and school wifi networks are spotty on the best of days, much less after we add hundreds of new devices to the networks,” Archibald said. “And while we are talking about greater representation among teachers in our schools, perhaps the schools need to look into hiring more male teachers as well.

Kimberly Hundley, speaking on behalf of the W-JCC chapter of Teachers Education Association, offered the group’s full support of the proposed budget, while also offering a few comments regarding the calls for more diverse teachers.

“I am retiring next year, and I do hope another teacher of color takes my place,” Hundley said. “We do need more people of color AND more young men teaching in our schools.” Hundley closed with a suggested course of action.

“If you happen to know any young men or any people of color who happen to be in college right now and hope to become teachers, reach out to us, reach out Tim Baker, we want you here,” Hundley said. “If they aren’t interested in coming here, ask them why, because we can’t elevate to excellence until we know what we need to work on to bring the best and brightest here.”

The next School Board work session will be at 6:30 p.m. April 9 at the W-JCC Central Office on Ironbound Road.

Sean CW Korsgaard can be reached at 757-968-1529, by email sean.korsgaard@vagazette.com, and on Twitter @SCWKorsgaard.

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