Letter: Local government is a cause of concern
Recent actions by the Gloucester Board of Supervisors regarding public education in the county are a cause of concern on a number of levels.
In the recent budget hearing, more than 100 citizens attended with many requesting that the board of supervisors increase its financial support for public education in an effort to maintain high quality schools. Most advocated fully funding the school board’s budget request. Most recognized the effects of underfunding public education in Gloucester: A reduced school calendar; neglect of capital improvement needs; deteriorating and outdated textbooks; an exodus of highly-qualified teachers and staff who can no longer afford to support families on annual salaries $10,000 below the national average. One teacher, who happens to hold a master’s degree, reported that his family is eligible for WIC benefits.
Conversely, fewer than a half dozen citizens spoke advocating no increase in school funding. That’s right, 100:6. Those in attendance that night witnessed this lopsided ratio, and noted that the vast majority demanded that those who control the purse strings appropriately fund public education in Gloucester. As this community is now aware, this vast majority was ignored by the board of supervisors when it came time to vote on the budget.
There are some who have argued that there would be more funding had Gloucester simply replaced a 1953 school with a 1953 school on a dangerous stretch of a four-lane highway. They will no doubt continue to lecture those who disagree with them. This was not an issue raised by those who asked for appropriate funding for schools this year. The majority of Gloucester citizens simply want good schools.
The BOS has also given itself license to attempt to make administrative decisions for the school board. In addition to ignoring the will of the citizenry, the BOS also voted unanimously to earmark excess funds for bonuses for “selected” school staff.
The board of supervisors is charged with simply providing “lump sum” funding for the school board. This latest move is tantamount to “line item” funding and is an inappropriate role for the board of supervisors, if not an abuse of power. It is interesting that the BOS now seems to be interested in helping education support staff after one member suggested outsourcing the same support staff, many of whom have dedicated years or decades to the school system.
Instead of these political shenanigans, what the county board should have done was to listen to the collective voice of the majority and fully fund the budget request of the school board, which would have provided modest increases for all school staff, not just those inappropriately selected by the board of supervisors.
The school board asked for funding for a 3 percent increase for support staff as well as a 2 percent increase for teachers. The role of the board of supervisors is to provide funding for schools, not to decide who gets an increase or bonus, and who does not. The board of supervisors should do its job and leave it to the school board to oversee the operations of the school system. This author does not speak for the school board, but on behalf of the interests of public education in Gloucester County and the men and women who provide services to more than 5,000 children and teens on a daily basis.
Brian McGovern, President
Gloucester Education Association