New Christiansburg schools face uncertain future

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Tough decisions face the Montgomery County School Board after a vote by the Board of Supervisors Monday night struck down any chance that a two-cent property tax increase might soon help fund the school system’s future capital projects.


Without the tax increase, Superintendent Mark Miear said the district is even further away from breaking ground at a new Belview Elementary School or Christiansburg High School. Now, a new elementary school will not be feasible until 2024 and construction on a high school will likely not start before 2030, he said.

Miear said he would like to look into the option of renovating Christiansburg schools instead of building anew.

“The kids of Christiansburg can’t wait that long of a time to get out of the trailers,” Miear said.

He told school board members that he will present information about costs and timelines for possible renovations at the school board’s April 18 meeting.

Board members appeared divided over the outcome of the proposed property tax increase.

District D representative Jamie Bond voiced her support for the Board of Supervisors’ decision.

“I wanna see [new schools] before these dates,” Bond said. “But a two-cent increase wouldn’t help us.”

District F representative Connie Froggatt and District A representative Gunin Kiran disagreed.

“Two cents gets us there faster, period. Wherever we decide to go, two cents gets us there faster,” Froggatt said.

 

“Two cents gets us there faster, period. Wherever we decide to go, two cents gets us there faster,” Froggatt said.

Kiran said she is curious to see Miear’s renovation options, but that she is also disappointed in the Board’s decision.

“I don’t want to hear people complain to the county that Christiansburg doesn’t get new buildings,” Kiran said, highlighting an issue that board members James Lyons (District C), Penny Franklin (District B) and Bond often bring up during school board meetings.

Despite not supporting the increase, Bond told Kiran that she should expect to hear more complaints because the community wants new schools in Christiansburg.

Lyons, who also did not support the proposed tax increase, said he feels the county has “stepped up repeatedly” to provide the school district with funding. In his opinion, Lyons said it’s a lack of planning by previous school board members that has created a financial situation where the district cannot afford new schools.

“We didn’t plan well 20 years ago and we’re suffering for it now,” Lyons said.

Kiran replied to Lyons directly, saying that, “I don’t want them to say that about us in 30 years.”

Franklin, who was not present at the meeting but participated electronically, defended the position that Christiansburg should receive new facilities as soon as possible, even if it means taking on additional burdens like the property tax increase.

“People forget what the conditions are like in the elementary school,” Franklin said. “Christiansburg needs a new elementary school. If we only do what we are comfortable with doing, we will never move forward in this community.”

In addition to new schools, the board discussed what they will need to cut from their proposed budget to stay within available funding. Two options Miear presented to board members at the March 7 meeting have since received feedback from employees.

A majority of employees preferred the option of a salary enhancement in July 2017 with healthcare plan changes that include a deductible increase, spousal surcharge and premium increase for employees.

Miear’s other option offered a salary enhancement in January 2018 and included a deductible increase and spousal surcharge but not an employee premium increase. Postponing the salary enhancement until January 2018 would save the district $681,233.

However, Miear has pointed out at previous meetings that waiting any longer to offer a salary enhancement would place MCPS employees far behind their recommended salary step, as several salary enhancements were foregone during difficult financial times after the 2008 recession and they have yet to be made up.

If the school board decides to adopt the option favored by employees, the district will have to cut funding for school bus replacements by half, from $375,400 to $187,700. This means the district will only be able to afford two buses instead of the recommended four next year.

However, Miear said there is a chance the district could afford another bus or two using money saved from the district’s fuel budget and carryover funds.

District E representative Marti Graham cautioned the board that cutting into school bus replacement funds could hurt the district in the near future, because the district must replace 75 buses between 2019 and 2025.

“I think it’s going to be really, really hard for us to get there,” Graham said.

A $30,000 program to provide Internet access to underprivileged students will be completely cut, along with funding for vehicle replacement, which is allocated $29,670 in the current proposed budget.

The next school board meeting will be held at 7 p.m. April 4 at the Montgomery County Government Center, 750 Imperial St., Christiansburg.

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