School Board makes final cuts, looks to the future

ROANOKE COUNTY–The Roanoke County School Board has made its final adjustments to the 2010-2011 school budget, and they are now looking to the future.

“We have got our arms completely around the 2010-2011 budget,” Roanoke County School Board Chairman Mike Stovall said.

The budget was balanced by closings schools, cutting electives, and making scheduling changes in the high schools.  The school system also anticipates having to cut a number of positions, though this will not necessarily cause lay offs.  

While some of these cuts have been anticipated for months, others were only decided upon recently.

 At a budget meeting on March 11th, the School Board agreed on several budget updates. First of all, the high schools are moving to a six period teaching model. This means that teachers will teach six periods of the day, and have one free period. Retirees will be given lunch, parking lot, and hall duty periods, instead of the teachers. This may actually benefit the students, as class sizes could potentially be smaller than in a five period day.

Another agreement at the March 11th meeting dealt with electives. Dr. Cecil Snead, Director of Secondary Instruction and Technology and Career and Technical Education, looked at the electives with the lowest enrollment in the past, and either consolidated or cut them. Creative Writing was completely cut from the high school system, while Introduction to Calculus was eliminated because of a similar class already being taught.

“We thought they could take pre-calculus instead,” Snead said.

SAT prep was moved to summer school and Saturdays, while Health II and Driver’s Education were consolidated into one class.

“Most of the high schools in the state of Virginia do that anyway,” Snead said.

The biggest challenge at the budget meeting, according to Stovall, was dealing with the fallout over closing Bent Mountain Elementary School. At this time, the School Board has voted to retain the building and lease it to the Board of Supervisors, so that the building can remain in use, perhaps as a community center. 

Ed Elswick, Windsor Hills representative on the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors, likes the idea of turning the school into a community center.

“Since it was the idea of the citizens up here, and myself, I like it,” Elswick said.

He does see problems with the plan, however.

“Leasing the facility to the County is not what we desire—we would like the facility ownership turned over to the County as the activities, and potential modifications to the facility, are all normal County activities and would be best managed as such. There is little justification for the School Board to hang on to a facility that has only the remotest chance of ever being used as a public school in the future,” Elswick said. “We prefer to deal with one government body—not two.”

While the School Board 2010-2011 budget has been balanced, the 2011-2012 budget is still very much up in the air. If nothing changes, the School Board is looking at another $8 million cut to the budget in 2011-2012.

“That will be one of the most catastrophic budgets in the history of Roanoke County,” Stovall said.

While Clearbrook and Fort Lewis Elementary Schools were saved from being closed in 2010-2011, closing these schools may very well be on the table again for 2011-2012.

“If consolidating schools would keep up from having to lay off employees, then yes, [we will consider closing the schools],” Mike Stovall said.

For now, the School Board is breathing a sigh of relief that one more budget has been balanced. They will not have long, however, until the ax falls once again from the state, and local school systems will pay the price.

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