About 120 people, including many teachers, staff and other supporters of the county school division, came out Monday night to speak before the Gloucester Board of Supervisors on the county’s proposed $133 million FY 2015 budget during a public hearing at the Thomas Calhoun Walker Education Center.
While only a handful of people thanked the board for not proposing to raise their taxes next year, most of those who spoke Monday night encouraged the board to do whatever possible to improve the quality of education in Gloucester County Public Schools and improve the compensation for its employees.
The proposed budget does not fund any increase in local funding as requested by the school superintendent.
One of the first residents to speak was GHS student Dustin Hall, who said he was “in awe” at the relatively small amount of funding the school system receives. He said a science textbook he uses dates back to 1995 and a government book regularly used in the school discusses the then-upcoming presidential race between George Bush and Al Gore.
“By not (fully funding the school’s budget) you continue to stagnate the students of this county,” Hall said.
Peasley Middle School teacher Michael Cole said the morale in the schools is “at an all-time low” and teachers are increasingly being asked to do more and more with less staff.
According to Cole, Virginia’s teacher salaries are 5 percent below the national average and Gloucester’s salaries are 4 percent below the state average. “That’s a kick in the teeth,” he said.
Gloucester High School teacher Gina Ventresca said there is “an overall tone of helplessness, frustration and anger” among teachers and staff in the school system. She said she is 54 years old, has had to take on additional jobs for more income and also has to rely on her elderly parents to subsidize her income when she falls short.
“Resentment and cynicism are starting to set in,” Ventresca said. “And those who know me would be shocked to hear me say that.”
She also said her 22-year-old son will be graduating college this spring and in May will start out making $10,000 more per year than she makes.
She said she recently received a $50 gift card from the staff at Tabb Middle School where one of her children attends school, because she qualified for economic hardship. “How humiliated I was,” Ventresca said. “You should be as well.”
Petsworth district resident Ted Williams took a different tone, saying that considering what the school board did to the taxpayers with the vote to build a new Page Middle School, he doesn’t want to give the schools another dime.