Parents back school improvement plans

Published 5:32 pm Tuesday, June 19, 2018

By Elizabeth Pattman

Staff writer

Parents at a recent public hearing spoke in favor of school upgrades that could potentially add another six cents to the real estate tax rate.

Isle of Wight County schools officials on Thursday provided more details on how renovations to current facilities, and the construction of a new school.

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The urgency for some renovations was amplified by one father, who said his children, who attend Hardy Elementary, refuse to use the bathroom all day because of the facilities’ condition. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

The public hearing included four parent speakers, all of whom spoke in favor of the long-range facility planning committee’s recommendations, particularly of the renovation phases.

During the meeting, IWCS assistant superintendent Michael Lombardo shared a more concise version of Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton’s May presentations, detailing the work of the committee and sharing their proposals.

The small crowd at the meeting was refreshed on the proposed plans to renovate Hardy and Westside elementary schools as well as the bus garage and maintenance buildings for an estimated cost of $37.9 million followed by the construction of a new elementary school on the northern end of the county for an estimated cost of $36 to 38 million. 

Rachel Yates, the division’s executive director of budget and finance, explained the potential tax increases needed for the renovation in some detail at Thursday’s meeting. According to Yates, the $37.9 million required to renovate Hardy, Westside, the bus garage and maintenance areas would require the equivalent of a 6.4 cent tax increase for all county residents for 20 years.

For residents who own a $200,000 property, this would equate to an additional $128 in taxes each year ($10.57 a month), while $250,000 property owners would be paying an additional $160 a year ($13.33 a month), $300,000 property owners would pay an additional $192 a year ($18.00) and so on upwards, according to Yates.

While the audience began digesting this information, School Board Chairman Vicky Hulick opened the public hearing, but prefaced it by reminding everyone that the Board would not take any action or “get into the nitty gritty” on the proposals until August.

Ultimately, any tax increase is a decision by the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors. The School Board can request funding for the projects, but the Supervisors have the authority to allocate the money. 

Four different parents spoke during the public hearing, all voicing their support for the proposal, particularly the renovations portion of the plans. All have children in the schools and have seen the outdated conditions within the buildings.

The first to volunteer to speak was Katherine Parker, a Smithfield resident and mother of three. Her oldest child just finished kindergarten at Hardy Elementary and Parker herself attended the school when she was young. 

“I think it’s really important that we make these changes, because education itself is changing. Nothing in Hardy has changed since I was there,” she said.

“It was cool to see, when I took my kindergartener, this is where my class was, this is where I ate, all that,” she said “But I think it’s important that these renovations be done because nothing has changed. The times have changed.”

Next up was Ruth Murray, a mother of another Hardy kindergartener. Murray described how she heard “some really bad stories” about the county’s school division before she moved here, particularly about Hardy, where her child now attends. While the stories were not true, the school still needs work, she said.

“I was amazed at the staff, I was amazed at the comradery, I was overjoyed,” Murray said of her experience upon bringing her child to Hardy. “I trust them every day with my child along with thousands of other parents, however, this school needs work. It needs a serious facelift.”

“I want to see this school grow. I want to see this school come up. I want to see this school with all these programs because our children deserve it,” she said.

Following Murray’s speech, Hardy Elementary School principal Shante Denson found her at her seat and the pair shared a long hug.

Following Murray, Smithfield resident and father Matt Thomas shared his thoughts regarding the “inevitable” growth coming to the northern end. Thomas, like the others before him, stressed that the renovations at existing buildings need to be completed before the new construction even begins.

“It would be a disgrace if we had children attending a new building and this great facility while we still had them in schools like Hardy,” he said.

Thomas shared that his children won’t even use the restrooms at Hardy all day because of the state of disrepair they are in, which tells him that work is needed.

Fellow father Rick Wigginton agreed, explaining that there is a “difference in the feeling” you get when walking into the county’s various schools, based on their conditions.

Wigginton’s message to the Board was simple: the county needs standardized building quality and it needs to happen faster.

The School Board will host another public hearing on the facilities plans in July and August, at which point they will vote on the committee’s proposal.

If approved, the proposal would then move to the Board of Supervisors for consideration for the Capital Improvement Plan.  {/mprestriction}