Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Montgomery County School Board granted discretion over reserve fund
Montgomery supervisors also grappled over their perceived fairness in dealing with their region.
CHRISTIANSBURG - Montgomery County supervisors sparred Monday about how much control they have over school funding - and about how fairly different sections of the county are treated by local government generally - before voting to lift restrictions on how the school board uses a special reserve fund.
"If we don't like how they spend it, we can run for school board," Supervisor Matt Gabriele said.
Supervisors voted 5-2 to approve Gabriele's motion to let the school board decide how to use $400,000 the supervisors set aside in November. The money had been designated for repairs at Christiansburg High School. But school board members had balked at the one-time bequest, saying they thought the need to study solutions to overcrowding and other problems at elementary schools in the Christiansburg strand outweighed the high school's troubles.
The supervisors vote on Monday allows the school board to decide how to use the $400,000, whether on Christiansburg High School or studies or something else.
The school board "does not want us to tell them what their priorities are," Supervisor Annette Perkins said. "I just don't know how we got into this quagmire ... of who's in charge."
Supervisor Chris Tuck, who in November led the effort to set aside money for improvements at Christiansburg High School, voted against Gabriele's motion, as did Supervisor Gary Creed.
Tuck said he agreed that supervisors should not micromanage the schools. But he said that if the school board chose not to make repairs at Christiansburg High School, its members were free not to draw on the $400,000 the supervisors had made available. "If they don't think it's that important, if they don't want to address it, then they don't have to ask for it," Tuck said.
Back in November, Tuck and several parent volunteers who are frequently in Christiansburg High School had detailed problems there that included crumbling sidewalks, overheating stage lighting in the auditorium and other issues.
On Monday, Tuck repeated an argument that he made last fall that with new high schools being built in the Blacksburg and Auburn strands, and a high school completed in the Eastern Montgomery strand in the past decade, Christiansburg strand students might feel abandoned. The $400,000 would be a "Band-Aid," Tuck said, until the county's debt load from school construction eases in six years or so and officials can consider a more thorough renovation or replacement of Christiansburg High School.
Caring for some of the worst problems at Christiansburg High School would help students there feel, "We may not be able to keep up with the Joneses, but we at least live in the same neighborhood," Tuck said.
Creed said the refusal to deal with Christiansburg High School's problems echoed a perception in many parts of Montgomery County that Blacksburg gets the most attention from county officials. The town's population ensures that a majority of the seven-member board of supervisors' districts touch the town.
Other supervisors said the idea that the county favored Blacksburg was easily disproved, pointing to the new high school being built in Riner and the relatively recent completion of a new Christiansburg Middle School and of Eastern Montgomery High School.
"Those things didn't happen because we sat up here and said, 'All right, four Blacksburg people, what do you want to do?'" Supervisor Mary Biggs said.
Saying she was proud of both supervisors' and the school board's records of serving the whole county, Biggs suggested Creed and other supervisors talk to residents to dispel notions of favoritism, and said she was glad to have such talks herself.
"It kind of irritates me to have that thrown in my face as a Blacksburg supervisor," Biggs said. "I have worked my" - Biggs paused - "off for the whole county."
Supervisor Bill Brown said that with about 94,000 residents in the county, there were going to be lots of opinions about how government works. "There is a majority of the people out there who will never understand," Brown said, adding that only people who serve in government can see the real "nuts and bolts" of governing.
Tuck countered that if the school board didn't want the money for Christiansburg High School, the New River Valley Juvenile Detention Home, which the county helps support, could use it. A majority of supervisors disagreed.