Isle of Wight Supervisors to give Thornton $8 of the $10 request

Published 12:55 pm Wednesday, March 22, 2017

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

In an attempt at compromise, the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed to hold a public hearing on a roughly $8 million loan to fund a new, in-county Career and Technical Education program.

Isle of Wight County schools superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton had asked for a $10 million loan, to be stretched out over 20 years, and paid for by money currently used to pay the tuition at the Pruden Center for Industry and Technology in Suffolk.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The supervisors proposed a counter offer of a $7.99 million loan over 14 years or less. The supervisors were concerned about CTE monies being used to fund unrelated items, such as an outdoor dining area, as well as making sure the money continues to be used to repay the debt in the future. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

It’s “innovative,” said Chairman Rex Alphin of the proposed program. 

“That’s synonymous with risk.”

The public hearing will likely be held at the Board’s next regular meeting, April 20.

Prior to the Board’s decision, a student, as well as a few parents spoke in favor of supporting the new program.

Smithfield High School student Justin Harris described a survey he and other students conducted on the benefits of new furniture on student motivation and performance.

A portion of Thornton’s initial proposal included new cafeteria tables and chairs, as well as revamping the media centers in the two high schools.

Parent Shannon Turner said her children are enjoying the new coding classes and thought more opportunities were a good thing in an ever-changing future. 

Smithfield District Supervisor Dick Grice thought $6.2 million on a 10-year loan could cover the costs of CTE-related items — as well as instructional materials.

Windsor District Supervisor Joel Acree was also concerned that the money be specific to CTE programs, although he did point out that the cafeteria furniture was the same as when he was in high school. Acree also wanted school officials to see how homeschool students could utilize the CTE curriculum.

Hardy District Supervisor Rudolph Jefferson wanted to see the program phased in and that the new program would include unforeseen expenses that could tip the balance of the now flat budget presented by the School Board.

Newport District Supervisor William McCarty said the tuition costs at Pruden have risen over the years and that too, is an unforeseen expense.

Thornton said every new program has costs and that other areas of the budget can be cut to compensate.

The plan was to replace Pruden at no extra cost, he said.

Isle of Wight County schools pay $952,000 a year to fund 220 slots at Pruden. The plan is to use $750,000 of that money to pay the debt service on the loan for the new program, with the remaining $200,000 used to pay teachers.

Already, the division has posted new CTE teaching jobs on its website — culinary arts, welding, building trades, cosmetology and a farm manager. All the positions have a salary range of $40,500 to $66,520 except the farm manager, which has a range of $57,254 to $91,607.

If the division were to fill all those positions at the lowest salary, it would run $219,254, not including benefits. The site indicates the positions will be filled immediately.

Other programs in the proposed plan have included mechatronics, health sciences and logistics.

Some classes will begin in September, followed by the remainder in January and September of 2018, according to schools spokesperson Lynn Briggs.

Materials and supplies for the CTE classes will be paid for through the instructional materials budget, she said.

Last year, the Isle of Wight County School Board opted to end its relationship with Pruden and create its own Career and Technical Education program.

Thornton said the county paid for 220 slots, but in recent years 140 students attended Pruden and just 65 or so completed a certificate program.

School officials said the commute, along with scheduling conflicts, were the main reasons for low attendance.

Initially, school officials had planned to phase in an in-house program, but that changed after Smithfield Foods offered $3 million to build a new JROTC building, Makerspace and multi-use building for student presentations and events at Smithfield High School.

Smithfield Foods’ donation, to be phased in at $1 million a year over three years, is not contingent on the implementation of the new CTE program.

The new JROTC building will allow those students to move out of the “E-building” and free up space for the CTE classes. Building a new football field house would open up the rest of the space in the E-building and that’s why it’s in the plans, Thornton said.

Thornton also said Isle of Wight is working with Paul D. Camp Community College to create career pathways that would show ways to incorporate high school courses with community college or four-year college curriculums.


On line survey 

An online survey, initiated and written by Newport District Supervisor William McCarty, found that nearly 70 percent of respondents favored Isle of Wight borrowing $10 million to cover the cost of new vocational programs at Smithfield and Windsor high schools.

A description of the project compiled for the McCarty survey said that county schools “are on the cusp of some innovative and great programs for the future of our county.” It suggested that any questions about the plan be directed at Newport School Board member Vicky Hulick.

The survey provided for a simple “yes” or “no” response to the plan, but invited comments.

In all, 819 individuals responded, and 279 provided comments that ranged from “let’s do this thing,” to questions about the pace of the plan, future maintenance and replacement of equipment and why the schools didn’t renegotiate or work to revamp programs at the Pruden Center for Industry and Technology in Suffolk.

The first question simply asked if the respondent was in favor of the project or not. The second questioned asked for the respondents election district and the third allowed for comments.

About 36 percent of respondents were from the Smithfield District, followed by Newport and Windsor at nearly 21 and 20 percent, respectively. The remaining responses were from the Carrsville and Hardy districts.  {/mprestriction}