Supervisors approve $7.9 million for schools initiative

Published 12:25 pm Wednesday, April 26, 2017

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

The Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors voted 4-0 Thursday to take out a $7.9 million loan to finance a new Career and Technical Education program at the county’s two high schools.

Windsor District Supervisor Joel Acree was ill and not present at the meeting.

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The loan with Raymond James will be at a 2.4 percent interest rate over 13 years with an annual payment of $715,829.

The new CTE program is to take the place of classes now held at the Pruden Center for Industry and Technology in Suffolk. Programs will include culinary arts, health sciences, engineering and mechatronics, logistics, agriculture, welding and more. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

The annual debt service on the loan is to be paid for from the tuition formerly paid to the Pruden Center.

Isle of Wight pays $952,000 a year to Pruden. School officials had proposed using $750,000 for debt service and the remaining funds for instructional costs.

With a lower debt payment of $715,829, Isle of Wight officials are opting to keep the overage in the school’s budget.

The Board stipulated that a memorandum of understanding with the school division be drawn up to make sure the funds would be specifically earmarked for the loan payment and not be forgotten and absorbed into the county’s operating budget in future years.

A public hearing was held before the vote and some were enthusiastic while some were not.

Julie Branch of Windsor, who has three children in Isle of Wight County schools, said she was at Smithfield High School pep rally in February when the “secret plan” was revealed.

“I’m very excited to be part of Isle of Wight County schools’ vision,” she said.

Thomas Griffin of Windsor, who taught agriculture in the schools, said vocational training is constantly changing and was concerned about how the plan was presented.

“This was shoved out here in the limelight,” he said, adding that Isle of Wight County tops the list of the most indebted counties in the state.

Isle of Wight County schools Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton gave a personal story to highlight his support of the new CTE program.

Thornton said he grew up in poverty and was the first in his family to attend college. He pushed his own children to go to college, but his son didn’t stay, Thornton said.

Now his son works in a warehouse in Virginia Beach and he wants other non-college-bound students to have a similar opportunity to develop their skills, buy a house, raise a family and “not just exist,” he said.

School officials have reported that 40-45 percent of high school graduates do not immediately go on to college and the new CTE program is devised to provide other opportunities to develop job skills.

Reasons provided as to why the school division needed to sever its long-standing agreement with Pruden included lack of interest in programs, students not completing certification programs there, students not attending because of scheduling and lack of slots in some programs.  

The new CTE program is expected to begin in the fall, with a staggered schedule of offerings. To accompany the new curriculum is a $3 million donation from Smithfield Foods to Smithfield High School. The $3 million will pay for a new JROTC building, a Makerspace and a multi-purpose building for student presentations.

A portion of the new CTE programs will be housed in the building currently occupied by the JROTC.  {/mprestriction}