Mathews teachers protest county budget
The teachers were there to protest the budget, which includes an additional $50,000 for the schools to help offset retirement and insurance costs rather than the increase of $679,951 the schools asked for this year.
Mathews County Administrator Mindy Conner gave a brief presentation on the budget before the hearing began. She said that the $23,612,277 total budget is slightly less than last year, reflecting expenditures on grant-funded capital projects.
Conner explained that the driver behind this year’s budget is the real estate assessment, which showed a $67 million decline in the value of property countywide. She attributed the decline to a depressed real estate market and the impact of environmental regulations on property values.
Real estate accounts for 88 percent of the revenue the county takes in, said Conner, so the county as a whole has lost value in its most important asset. The decline means that the rate for taxes needs to increase, she said. The equalized rate, which offsets the decline, is 2.13 cents more than the current rate of 54 cents per $100 of assessed value, or 56.13 cents. However, the board decided to increase the rate an additional 1.37 cents, bringing the rate up to 57.5 cents per $100 of assessed value. The additional funding will allow $50,000 more for the schools, $33,000 for the rescue squad, and a 2 percent salary increase for county staff and for employees in the constitutional offices and social services, she said.
Board chairman Jack White prefaced the public hearing by saying that recent newspaper articles had suggested that the board’s meeting with Mathews School Superintendent Nancy Welch on March 31 had been acrimonious.
“But one thing that didn’t get in is that I commended the schools,” White said.
He said that Welch and Mathews School Board Chair Linda Hodges had given “their best shot at the budget, and it was a 9.5 percent increase.” He said the county didn’t have the funds to do that because of other pressing needs and that he had tried to come up with some suggestions for the school budget in order to “pierce its inviolability.” In the past, he said, supervisors identified money that would have equaled in total to a 9 percent increase for teachers over a four-year period.
“I feel personally that we stepped up,” said White. “If the money didn’t get to you, it’s because of the school board. If they want a media specialist, they can have a media specialist … If you’re angry about the way it’s spent, that’s up to the schools.”
During public comments, 15 people spoke against the proposed budget, all objecting to the lack of adequate funding for schools. Only one person spoke in support—Ron Lambert of the Mathews Volunteer Rescue Squad, who said he supported the budget because it includes additional funding requested by the squad.
Teachers talked about the challenges they face with no aide in a classroom of 25 students, about the value of the assistant principals who oversee standardized tests and are the only ones available to call when there’s trouble in the classroom, about grading papers at home until late into the night, and about spending their own money to purchase supplies for the classroom.