County Schools Hit by Shrinking Federal, State Aid

Cape Charles Wave

March 2, 2015

With more snow and colder temperatures looming, the Northampton Board of Supervisors met February 23 to conduct a joint meeting with the Northampton County School Board to discuss the FY 2016 Requested Budget. A joint meeting with the Planning Commission, along with the Town of Nassawaddox, was also conducted. At the forefront once again was the need to raise salaries for County teachers and staff. The School Board is looking for a 1.5% increase, on top of the step increase from last year. Superintendent Charlie Lawrence, pointed out that even as there was a 1.5% increase last year, the 1.5 % increase in healthcare completely wiped it out.

In all, of the $19.8 million the school board is requesting, over $8.5 million is to be funded locally. This is a $500,000 increase from last year. Lawrence pointed out that back in 2008-2009 the budget was $8.4 million, which adjusting for inflation would be $9.3 million today. “It just goes to show how far we have fallen behind,” he said.

Lawrence observed that “25 years is considered a generation. Twenty-two years ago, Northampton had high achieving schools. Fast forward and we now have just one school clinging to accreditation. I know it’s a lot of money and it won’t solve all our problems. The citizens of Northampton County deserve better or average schools. The students of Northampton, economically . . . we cannot afford to have average or better schools.

“During your last meeting, I was told that the morale of our teachers was low. That is just not true. Look, the men and woman of our county schools come to work each day and toil before and after school, doing all they can to move this division forward. Are they frustrated and feel that they need better working conditions? Yes. In the end, it is the taxpayers and children that deserve better schools,” he declared.

Even as Lawrence emphasized the need for the budget increase, he also spoke to important parts of the budget that would have to be dropped, like much needed repairs to schools (such as painting the bathrooms at Kiptopeke, which have never been painted), a teacher of alternative education, additional math and science teachers (even as we expect our children to compete globally on a technological scale, due to staffing constraints, we cannot offer a full year of science in 4th and 5th grade, and the math classrooms are still considered overcrowded).

From a Financial and Operations perspective, Director of Finance E. Brook Thomas offered an elegant presentation which provided a granular level insight into the issues and challenges of the operations budget. Of note, 65% of the budget goes to instruction, and breaking it down further, 78% goes toward salaries and benefits. This is critical because, as the Board looks to make cuts, “it is very difficult since you would be cutting people whose lives are dedicated to serving children,” Thomas said.


One line item that was brought to the attention of the Board of Supervisors was the continual under-funding for substitute teachers. For the last several years, the need for substitutes has been more than the allocation, and at the end of each fiscal year, money had to be taken from some other fund, whether Operations, Transportation, or Capital, in order to balance the books.

Supervisor Granville Hogg questioned Mr. Lawrence, “Why is there an increase in the need? Isn’t it better to have the actual teacher there?” Lawrence responded that there has not been an actual increase in the use of the substitutes, but that the budget amount has been “underfunded for some time. It has never been fully funded.” Lawrence added that things such as long term illness, retirements, and outside requirements always come up.

As part of the overall presentation, Kerrin Plowden, director of Special Programs, gave an overview of the Pre-K programs. In most localities, the Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI) program is the primary program that addresses the needs of at risk children, those deemed not ready to enter kindergarten. VPI prepares children for kindergarten and makes sure they have the basic requirements to get off to a good start when they begin kindergarten. VPI adheres to data and research that promotes foundational learning that is established in the early years.

According to Mrs. Plowden, recent research by University of Virginia indicates that almost 1/3 of the state’s students are not ready to enter kindergarten. Plowden also emphasized that last year 22% of county students were considered at risk, but after completing the program, only 2% were at risk. She also noted that Northampton has a Universal Preschool program designed for all students, regardless of risk status.

During the majority of the joint meeting, there was an obvious attempt at keeping matters cordial and congenial, even collegial, yet some animosity did surface when Vice Chairman Oliver Bennett addressed Mr. Lawrence. “I just want to say that, even as State and Federal funding has continued to go down, funding from the county has continued to go up. Sometimes this fact gets lost in the shuffle,” Bennett said.

Lawrence responded, “I never meant to insinuate that you weren’t paying your fair share.”

“I just want the people to know that,” said Bennett.

“There are a lot of culprits in school funding,” replied Lawrence. “I just happen to be standing in front of you.”

Following the joint School Board meeting, the Board of Supervisors conducted a joint public hearing with the Northampton County Planning Commission and the Town Council of Nassawadox regarding revisions to the Northampton County Code of Ordinances, repealing the Floodplain Overlay District and replacing it with a Floodplain Management section. This is in compliance with the new FEMA flood insurance rate maps.

During public comments, Roberta Kellam questioned why Section 159 was removed from the zoning code (in order to shorten the document and save space). Ms. Kellam urged that “just like the Bay Act and Seaside Protection Act, this provision (159) should not be removed.”

Supervisor Trala questioned Administrator Katie Nunez, “If we don’t pass this, we will not be eligible for flood insurance?” Nunez responded, “Yes.”

Addressing the board, Supervisor Hogg asked, “Has anyone asked Charlie Banks (National Flood Insurance Program Coordinator), or FEMA District 3 in Philadelphia about this?” Fully prepared for Hogg’s “gotcha” moment, Nunez produced an email from Banks which concluded that, after reviewing the County’s flood ordinance, only a few changes (which he supplied) would be required for it to meet FEMA’s requirements.

“So, this (email) was not in my packet?” asked Hogg. Nunez responded, “No.”

Hogg continued, “Has the Planning Commission reviewed this document? There were numerous changes here . . . I was not aware of the number of changes. I did not receive it until Friday . . . I was amazed at the number of changes.”

As Hogg continued to speak, Administrator Nunez turned to Supervisor Trala and spoke to him privately, after which Trala abruptly stated, “I call for the question,” interrupting Hogg, who still had the floor. Hogg responded,” I don’t believe I can be interrupted, Sir. Point of order.”

An inaudible discussion followed, after which Nunez said “question,” and pointed to something on the table. Immediately after that Trala spoke again, interrupting Hogg. Suddenly, Bennett called for a vote on the measure, which passed 3-0-1 with Hogg loudly abstaining.

The exchange appeared to be an illegal secondary meeting to which most of the public was not privy. The parliamentary maneuver (Call the Question) appeared to be an attempt to force an end to Hogg’s debate; however, according to Robert’s Rules of Order, the member “must first obtain the floor by being duly recognized to speak by the chair, and must then move the Previous Question. Such a motion must be seconded, and then adopted by a two-thirds vote, or by unanimous consent. It is not in order to interrupt a speaker with cries of Question or Call the Question, and even if no one is speaking, it is still necessary to seek recognition.”

In other business, the Board reviewed the current 5 Year Strategic Plan, making some modifications. The four main goals of the Strategic Plan are Education, Economic Development, Infrastructure, and Health Care. One of the biggest modifications was in Goal 2, where one of the objectives was to purchase land and create an industrial park. Mr. Hogg stated, “We’re just getting over the one (Sustainable Technology Industrial Park in Cape Charles) now.” Lemond concurred, “We should instead be helping Cape Charles with that park instead of purchasing property.” The Board also added “Assist and promote agriculture, aquaculture and tourism” to Goal 2.

The Town of Cape Charles’s request for an overlay district was again pushed off until a further date. The Town wishes an overlay that will extend from the current boundaries of Highway 184 up to the traffic light on Route 13, and extending one mile in each direction, subject to certain uses which may require a special use permit. At present, no members of the Board appeared enthusiastic about acting as the applicant for the Town. After reviewing the details of the Town’s request, Mr. Lemond remarked, “Very ambitious. And that’s all I’m going to say about that at this time.”



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