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Powhatan School Board approves reduced operating budget
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Powhatan School Board approves reduced operating budget

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POWHATAN – The Powhatan County School Board last week adopted an amended fiscal year (FY) 2022 Operating Budget that took into account the board of supervisors approving a local transfer that was $229,800 lower than they expected.

During the school board’s meeting on Tuesday, June 8, members unanimously approved the operating budget at $50,325,027. This was based on figures that the supervisors adopted and appropriated at their May 10 meeting.

The reduction to the operating budget of $229,800 consisted of $102,800 of state funds provided by the General Assembly for salary adjustments and $127,000 the school board intended to use to address teacher salary compression.

Dr. Eric Jones, superintendent, explained the reduction at a previous meeting and said he would come back with a recommendation from staff on how the school board could reduce the budget. Last week, staff shared a list of those adjustments, which included reductions in the area of a new special education vehicle, insurance, equipment replacement, instructional materials at the middle and high schools, canceling the division’s membership to MERC, putting off some technology equipment replacements, and a reduction in the food transfer.

While the school board passed the amended budget, they decided not to approve the food service budget. The county approved the food service budget with a reduction of $262,621 that Jones said he was assured was an oversight and that the food service budget would be restored to $1,428,121. The school board decided that they would not approve the food service budget until that happens since they know it is not enough to fully operate. If it stays at that amount, it would require that the school division either deny service to about 20% of students for the entire year or shut down operations in April 2022.

There are no local funds supporting food service; the revenue is primarily federal reimbursements and a small amount of state support. These federal revenues may only be used for food service and must remain in the food service fund.

Other business handled at the six-hour school board meeting included:

* The board heard an updated presentation on the retiree health care supplement given to long-term employees who retire having met certain requirements. The board has discussed the benefit at four previous meetings and received additional information from Jones as well as questions he needed them to answer to know how they wanted to proceed. While the board made a few tentative decisions, they still were not ready to make final decisions on all aspects of it.

They had already agreed to grandfather in current retirees at the existing rates that the county supplements their health insurance. They had also already agreed moving forward that a retiree must have a minimum of 10 years of service in PCPS.

Several board members seemed to like the idea of a retiree receiving a certain amount – the example of $12.50 was used – for each year of service, but they wanted to see different amounts compared.

To not interfere with the employees contemplating retirement now, the school board tentatively agreed to make the new plan, whenever it is decided on, effective July 1, 2023. Retiring employees can sign up under the current plan until then.

The school division is going to check with its attorney on the issue of whether retiring from VRS with an unreduced benefit should be an eligibility requirement for access to the PCPS Retiree Health Care Supplement.

* Staff gave a presentation on the American Rescue Plan (ARP), which would see Powhatan County Public Schools receiving more than $2 million that it must spend by September 2024. Only about $1.34 million was available as of April 2021.

Each expenditure must addresses effects of COVID-19 on school operations and it is not intended to supplant state or local budget dollars, said Tracie Omohundro, assistant superintendent for instruction. The federal grant requires that 20% of the funds be used to measure and address the academic impact of lost instructional time on all students. She pointed out there is no mandated curriculum or method to address learning loss. It can include evidence-based interventions, such as summer learning or summer enrichment, individualized intervention, extended days, comprehensive afterschool programs, or extended school year programs. PCPS must ensure that such interventions respond to students’ academic and mental health needs and address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on groups of students disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

Some of the other allowable uses for the grant funds include: school facility repairs and improvements to enable operation of schools to reduce risk of virus transmission and exposure to environmental health hazards; instructional resources and materials; supporting virtual instruction; staff to provide academic and mental health supports to students; technology such as hotspots, Chromebooks, or electronic instructional resources; summer learning and afterschool programs; activities that address learning loss; health preparedness and response efforts, and sanitizing supplies, training, or staffing.

The school division will have to submit its grant application by Sept. 1. However, the funds can be used for any COVID-related costs that happened as far back as March 2020 or that may occur between now and September 2024.

The school division is seeking input from school-based staff, division staff, and the public about how they think the schools should use the funds. The public may contact Tracie Omohundro at 804-598-5700 or tracie.omohundro@powhatan.k12.va.us. They may also contact their school board members or speak during public comment periods through the Aug. 10 meeting.

* Ten individuals spoke during the public comment periods voicing concerns or making requests of the school board and school division.

The two chief concerns brought up were the teaching of critical race theory in schools and not wanting students to be wearing masks during the 2021-2022 school year.

Those that talked about masks said they are ineffective and contribute further to the spreading of germs. They also talked about the mental toll the masks and other COVID restrictions have taken on students mentally and physically. They talked about students having feelings of depression and isolation, not making close friends, having headaches, and feeling like they are in “prison.” Several said that children have been made to suffer even though they are not really impacted by the virus. Several parents said the school division needs to get back to normal during the next school year.

The importance of keeping critical race theory out of Powhatan schools was also mentioned by multiple parents who talked about the detriments it has on students. They spoke of the need to stand up for conservative values at a time when they feel under attack. Children should not have to pay for the sins of past generations or be told how they are supposed to achieve based on the color of their skin, some speakers said. Several speakers also said that critical race theory is in schools even if it is under different guises and accused the school board of either lying or being unaware of the problem.

While all of the speakers had left by the end of the meeting, which lasted more than six hours, several school board members spoke during board comments thanking them for being engaged and encouraging speakers to continue to share their thoughts and issues with the school board and staff.

* The school board voted unanimously to dedicate the Field House at Powhatan High School in memory of the late Coach Ernie Henderson. The division received several letters of support for this decision. Staff requested to have a sign made and mounted to the field house and to hold a ceremony during the 2022 spring sports season.

* Omohundro also gave a presentation on the Student Rights and Responsibilities, also known as the Code of Student Conduct. Each year, the document is reviewed. She presented a first draft of a newly formatted version that is in line with the state’s Model Guidance for Positive and Preventative Code of Student Conduct Policy.

“The updates and revisions are largely to the format; the content that exists within it is generally the same,” she said.

Student behaviors, which were formerly known as infractions, as well as leveled responses, formerly called dispositions, are now grouped by the impact on the student. For instance, the Level 1 leveled response is for a student behavior that sees them remaining in the school. Level 2 is short-term removal from class; Level 3 is short-term removal from school, and the highest, Level 4, is long-term removal from school.

Omohundro made clear that the behaviors and leveled responses will apply to students regardless of whether they are on a school bus or in a school building. However, there are parts of the document that address situations specific to different locations or scenarios.

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