Rezoning Can Help Schools Desperate for Funds
By RANDALL PARKS
Vice Chairman, Northampton School Board
April 6, 2015
I feel that there are many citizens of Northampton County who like me are somewhat befuddled as to the rezoning issues facing us. Frankly it is difficult for me to determine which are real concerns and which are simply of the “hysterical” variety designed to frighten the voters. Attending one Board of Supervisors meeting, I heard one concerned lady tell of the possibility of instead of the present limitation of 50 homes in an area, the changes would allow for 1,200. I wondered where those 1,200 families would come from and why they would move here.
I seriously doubt that a single person can be found who does not want the protection of our environment to be of utmost concern, yet some of the dire warnings seem to be designed to scare us instead of being reasonable concerns as to our future. Obviously real “by right” concerns need to be addressed, but some of those raised by the opponents of any rezoning are, well — ludicrous. Our Supervisors are attempting to enlarge the tax base of our community as they understand the future needs of our county and are doing their best to make this happen. They have held innumerable public work sessions dealing with the rezoning issues yet are being accused of making decisions in secret. It is apparent to me that there are people living in our community who oppose any changes whatsoever.
Our world here is not simply a society peopled by members of the upper middle class and and the very rich. There are numerous citizens who work in dead-end jobs earning the minimum wage struggling to get by on a week-to-week basis. Their children attend our schools which should offer a possible way out of their circumstances but are unable to do so because of lack of community support. Middle and high school students are “housed” in a building both too small and most importantly simply crumbling around them.
Previous Boards of Supervisors have concentrated on building new courthouses, jails, offices for the bureaucrats, and social services structures — all the while ignoring the needs of our children. Seven years ago engineers alerted our then Supervisors of the impending situation with the potential failure of the walls of our high school, yet instead of dealing with the situation, they chose to use a band-aid approach which would last only a short time. Now we are faced with pouring more money down a rat hole in an attempt to make it less dangerous for our children.
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We have middle school children attending school with high school children: 12-year-old children attending school with 18-year-old students. Last year there were 14 sections in the middle school with 28 or more students in those classes. Science classes are conducted in a regular classroom without access to lab facilities, as the students are expected to learn only from a book. Each year there is an almost 50% turnover in the teaching positions at the middle school. Our teachers have had one raise in the last five years, which was gobbled up by the increase in the cost of health insurance. With this reality the middle school is still expected to perform in the same manner as schools in affluent areas.
School systems throughout Virginia are partially funded from the state. The determination of the amount each system receives is based on a formula called the Composite Index. According to this formula Northampton County is richer than the counties of Accomack, York, Montgomery (home of Virginia Tech), Rockingham (home of VMI and Washington &Lee University), as well as the cities of Virginia Beach, Harrisonburg (home of James Madison University), Chesapeake, and numerous others. If it were not so serious, this supposed “fact” would be surreal to anyone familiar with these places.
There is a small percentage of funds which come from the federal government, and the remainder from the local community. Our Supervisors are presently studying the coming year’s budget and will shortly determine the upcoming tax rate. With an increase of one cent the tax on a $200,000 home would increase by $20. A two-cent increase would mean a $40 increase, and so on.
There will probably be a hue and cry if taxes are raised as many very well-to-do people will talk about how terrible it will be. I have read where Agricultural and Forestal Districts are a good thing and should be both continued and expanded. Northampton County loses almost $1.5 million through this program. There are people with AFDs who do not even live in our community yet receive this rather large tax break. Continuing as well as expanding this program will mean even less money for our schools, and this rather large tax break will be borne on the backs of our children with the continuation of a subpar school system.
A new high school/middle school complex will have to be built in the near future. With the same tax base we presently have, taxes will have to be raised substantially. This scenario is fact whether the community is in agreement or not. The band-aid approach will simply not continue to work and the associated cost of this approach will cost millions and be similar to the cost of a new complex. A change in the present zoning laws is necessary as “no to rezoning” is not a viable solution. Our Supervisors who are attempting to change the present zoning regulations have had much input from the public. Accusing them of making the proposed changes in secret is simply not true nor fair. They need to represent all the people and all the interests as opposed to a select few. The public must continue to monitor their decisions and inject their own ideas but cannot expect to have changes which only benefit those people who only want the status quo.
In conclusion, a society is measured in large part by its treatment of those without power and influence. The current treatment of our children in our school system is simply abominable. A short decade ago Northampton County Public Schools were a source of pride and were comparable to the best schools in the state — and then came “level funding” by our Supervisors. Through some sleight of hand the schools were able to hang onto programs which were beneficial to our children for a couple years. Unfortunately, lack of funds made a continuation of this impossible and today we now have schools which are doing a disservice to our children and community.