Letter: Supervisors justified in holding line on schools
I must respond to Mr. McGovern’s recent letter to the editor regarding the Gloucester Board of Supervisors’ (BOS) actions on the school budget (Readers Write, May 15, 2014). I attended the public hearing of which he wrote and did indeed see the 100 attendees supporting the school board’s proposed budget. These attendees dutifully followed an e-mailed request from the board to show up and support the budget (one of my neighbors who works for the school system received one of these rallying messages). There were approximately a dozen speakers in favor of the budget (not the 100 that Mr. McGovern implied).
There were also approximately 30 citizens (not just the six who spoke) who supported the BOS pledge to stop our county’s ever-expanding expenditures and taxes. The school budget is the largest single piece of the county’s budget. Question: Why should the school budget increase for a declining student population?
A year ago, I asked one of last year’s supervisors how the yearly school budget was approved. I was told that the school board just submits its budget, usually with a 3-5 percent increase, and it is simply approved by the BOS; no review, no justification—that’s just the way it has always been done. I’m sorry, but that is not good stewardship.
Mr. McGovern laments that teachers and staff are paid below the national average. Not surprising as citi-data.com reports that Gloucester’s cost of living is 13 percent below the national average. He also notes that one teacher with a master’s degree is eligible for WIC benefits. Really? It would be interesting to know the facts behind that claim. Further, Mr. McGovern noted an “exodus” of highly qualified teachers. Again, really? I checked the current Gloucester school system employment webpage and found eight openings—none of which were for teachers.
Do our teachers and support staff deserve a raise? Of course they do. But, then there are many more in the county who likewise deserve raises and aren’t going to get them. Then count those who have lost their jobs because of the economy. These folks are among those being asked to pay for the school board’s proposed budget increase.
I would suggest that years of unquestioned increases may have led to a top-heavy school system administration and perhaps some nice-to-have, but unnecessary, features and duplication. In the interest of transparency, a good, line-item scrub of the school budget would be in order to determine if that is true and to see if there could be money freed up to give the teachers and staff the raises they deserve. Maybe so, maybe not. But that is what the BOS has requested. Why is that unreasonable?