Several dozen Mathews residents attended a meeting at the Gwynn’s Island Cultural Center on Jan. 19 to protest the county’s spending practices and recent property reassessment.
Organizer Gary Farr said when he moved to the county in 1995 he didn’t mind trading services for more reasonable taxes and a small community, but he’s concerned that situation is "poised to change."
Over the past 13 years, said Farr, the county budget has doubled, from $10 million to $20 million, largely due to unfunded mandates the state and federal governments are imposing on the school system.
"The only way small business gets to double spending is if it quadruples sales," he said. "For $10 million, what do we get?"
Using information he obtained from the county website, Farr said that the per-pupil school expenditure in Mathews public schools is $9,600 a year, while a private academy in Gloucester charges only $8,910 a year.
Island resident Judy Rowe, a retired Mathews County math teacher, said that the culprit is the Standards of Learning testing required by the state, and she suggested that residents join in lobbying the General Assembly to modify those requirements.
School board member Bill Johnson agreed, saying further that looming requirements in the No Child Left Behind Act will make matters even worse, since the federal government will begin requiring a 100 percent pass rate on standardized tests beginning in 2014.
One audience member chimed in to say that no school system would be able to fulfill requirements that included a 100 percent pass rate and asked why Mathews County should do more than anybody else, while another said that SOLs aren’t improving what children are learning because standards are being "dumbed down" so more people can pass.
Farr suggested that the school system "just say no" to state and federal mandates.
"What have they got to threaten us with?" he said. "Are they going to sue the whole county?"
But Johnson warned that such action would result in the loss of funding and accreditation, and that running afoul of another area that requires expensive mandates—special education—could cause lawsuits to "rain down on the county."
Johnson said that the school system has already cut spending significantly and is now faced with cutting salaries and activities.
Farr countered that the school budget isn’t the only problem, and said that the other 50 percent of the budget needs to be dealt with, as well.