A joint meeting of the Williamsburg-James City County School Board and officials from the City of Williamsburg and James City County discussed areas of concern and some of the finer points of the proposed 2019-2020 school budget on Friday morning.
Concerns over the lack of additional financial support from the state, efforts needed to make W-JCC more competitive regionally, the growing numbers of special education and ESL students in the division and several of the school’s future budget goals, including the long-proposed tenth elementary school, were all on the table.
Superintendent Olwen Herron’s proposed 2019-2020 budget, among other things, implements a 4 percent salary increase for school employees as one of several efforts to make W-JCC schools more competitive regionally, hiring a range of new employees, including special education teachers and security personnel, and a 1.5 percent increase in employee healthcare contribution to address rising healthcare costs.
While there would be an additional $2.1 million increase in state funds coming from the budget passed by the General Assembly, it was less than expected, resulting in a shortfall of $956,573.
John McGlennon, a member of the James City County Board of Supervisors, was one of several officials who expressed disappointment that the state budget didn’t go further to provide additional funding for schools.
“I’m not the first person to talk about our frustration over the lack of action from Richmond,” McGlennon said. “We will do what we can to fund things on the local level, we always do, but what would we be able to do if the state maintained their efforts to provide assistance to education, and we weren’t left to cover the shortfalls?”
Scott Stevens, JCC county administrator, said that while the localities are still finalizing their own budgets, they remain committed to funding as much of what the schools say they need as possible.
“The good news is there is more money on the country level. The bad news is it’s still not enough to fund everything, either at the country level or the school division level,” Stevens said. “While we are still discussing how we will end up addressing this, for now we’re recommending everything the W-JCC School Board has asked for in its Capital Improvement Plan be funded over the next five years.”
Two significant areas of discussion were the increase in the number of special education students and the greater need for ESL education.
“Are we tracking the effect of the scores of these students, and if there has been a significant improvement in their grades or their ability to handle English?” McGlennon asked.
“Younger students, especially elementary schoolers, are like sponges, and handling them is easier,” said Patricia Tilghman, W-JCC coordinator for world Llanguages. “Our biggest challenge are students who come to us at middle and high school, who maybe have a third-grade education in their native language, and getting them caught up continues to be a huge challenge.”
One last issue addressed during the joint meeting was the possible 10th elementary school with a new price tag of $38 million. Thankfully, according to Mayor Paul Freiling, the need for it is not quite there yet.
“Elementary school enrollment will be going down in the near term, so its urgency is somewhat less,” Freiling said. “It’s good to be able to have this on the radar moving forward, however.”
Herron thanked local officials for their input and pledged to work together on the final version of the budget.
“This budget is designed to aid employee compensation, teaching and learning, and school safety,” Herron said. “You have consistently supported us in these efforts and we are fortunate to have the support of our local officials.”
The next meeting of the W-JCC School Board will be 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Stryker Center, 412 N. Boundary St.
Sean CW Korsgaard can be reached at 757-968-1529, by email firstname.lastname@example.org, and on Twitter @SCWKorsgaard.