Letter from former Isle of Wight County Schools superintendent

Published 5:38 pm Monday, September 25, 2023

Editor’s note: Following is the letter to The Smithfield Times from former Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton about his successor, Dr. Theo Cramer.

I’ll start with stating that School Board member Jason Maresh did the right thing on Sept. 14 by stating publicly that the School Board is responsible for overspending the budget. What I do not understand is how this School Board is not holding Dr. Cramer responsible for overspending the budget, which is a crime in Virginia.

My wife and I moved here eight years ago and have decided to settle here in this beautiful county. I have not spoken about the schools in over a year since I retired. I support the schools. However, as a taxpaying citizen who knows more about the school budget than probably anyone in this county, I could not stand by and let Dr. Cramer give false information to the Board of Supervisors and the taxpaying citizens of this county. 

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Most of his claims can easily be proven false if the School Board took the time to look at the previous school budgets that are posted online. I gave the Board of Supervisors information easily obtainable by this board. My hope was that Dr. Cramer would do the right thing by recognizing that his statements were incorrect and apologize to the public for overspending their money. Dr. Cramer made false statements at the August meeting and at the Sept. 14 meeting he hid behind his staff to continue to give this false narrative to the public.

He overspent the transportation area by over $900,000. He continues to say that bus drivers’ salary increases were not included. It is easy to research and look at the approved fiscal 2022-23 budget and the previous budget from fiscal 2021-22 to see the drivers’ wages were budgeted $322,030, or 23.9%, more than the previous year. If the current School Board looked at these numbers and their new fiscal 2023-24 budget, they will see that Dr. Cramer has used the same numbers for drivers and aides that he claims were short last year. This is blatant misinformation to the public to cover his mistakes. 

They do mention that there were two line items for other employees and trades that they claimed were short. If you look at their new budget they did increase these two lines by $93,630. Dr. Cramer should not have hired positions in the budget that they did not have and this $93,630 is far less than his overspending in transportation of $900,000. Shame on Dr. Cramer and this School Board for not doing their homework.

His worst flat-out lie in September was that he did not spend $540,000 in buses to reduce the eventual deficit. This flat-out lie is easy to prove by looking at the fiscal 2022-23 budget in which there was not any money allocated to buses. I don’t know how you can save money that was never budgeted in the first place. 

The Capital Improvement Plan line item under transportation for fiscal 2022-23 was zeroed out for that year. His staff’s new explanation on Sept. 14 trying to clarify this statement was another easily proven lie. They stated that buses have never been a line item expense in past budgets and that they purchased buses with only year-end money. Do your homework, School Board members. Before fiscal 2022-23, you will see a line item for CIP in which there was money every year for bus leases. In fact, in my seven years as superintendent, I never remember buying any buses with year-end funds. School Board, look at past budgets. This is your responsibility since your superintendent overspent the budget and has spread this blatant misinformation.

At the Sept. 14 meeting, Dr. Cramer said that he has learned his lesson from overspending the taxpayers’ money. Yet at that same meeting, he requested to hire a grant writer not in the budget and find the money later. He had already put the school system in the hole by over $400,000 by overspending the budget and wanted to add to that deficit without a plan. Does this sound like he learned anything? The School Board did recognize that they were in the hole this year already and turned down his request.

Dr. Cramer had his staff share that a clerical error happened by his staff when requesting the 5% raise supplement for teachers last year. They checked the wrong box and only received 2½% from the state. A half a million-dollar ($500,000) mistake that he wants the taxpaying citizens to make up. He has demonstrated a complete lack of oversight and has taken absolutely no responsibility.

Get ready, School Board and taxpaying citizens. I have reviewed Dr. Cramer’s fiscal 2023-24 budget that is posted online, approved by the School Board, and it is underfunded in the VRS and Retiree Health category by approximately $406,000. If you look at his approved budget online, he just cut and pasted most of the same numbers from the previous budget. The VRS and Retiree Health line items are derived by a percent of the employees’ pay. These two benefits are 22.83% of all pay increases in the new budget. Teacher pay went up 5%. Therefore, the benefits should have increased by 22.83% of the total increased amount. I went through just the instructional category, which is the largest, and salaries increased a total of approximately $1.7 million. If you multiply that increase by the same 22.83%, the shortfall is approximately $406,000.

In addition, if the previous budget was so inaccurate, then why did he just cut and paste almost every line item except for raises and a few other lines throughout the budget? Why did the School Board not recognize this? Dr. Cramer should have created a zero-based budget and done his job that we all pay him to do. He should have apologized to the former CFO, whom he tried to blame, and the past administration, which I led. Instead he demonstrated very little character and continued to deliver false information to the public and his School Board, which either does not know how to check or is blindly following their superintendent who overspent a budget, which is criminal.

I wonder if they will do their homework and check these easily verifiable facts. Will they hold him accountable now?

The Board of Supervisors did their job by not funding the request last month to use taxpayers’ money to fill the hole that Dr. Cramer created. The School Board, however, thanked Dr. Cramer and his staff for his presentation on Sept. 14. I cannot wait to hear what Dr. Cramer comes up with next month to try to fool them and the public again. Dr. Cramer, you may be able to fool people who are not willing to do their homework, but I live here and pay taxes here and will continue to hold you responsible when you try to misinform the taxpaying citizens of this county.

Hopefully, the commonwealth’s attorney will investigate the possible fraud that Dr. Cramer tried to perpetrate on the taxpaying citizens of Isle of Wight County. He overspent a budget then made false claims to the public and his board. His elected School Board then used these false claims to ask for over $500,000 from the Board of Supervisors, another elected board. In my opinion, this sure looks like fraud by definition. Fraud involves the false representation of facts, whether by intentionally withholding important information or providing false statements to another party for the specific purpose of gaining something that may not have been provided with the deception. The Board of Supervisors obviously saw through the deception and did not fund the request.

Dr. Cramer could have been a strong leader with great character and been honest and said that he made a mistake. The School Board took responsibility. The staff took some responsibility. Dr. Cramer just played the blame game and didn’t think he would get caught. It’s too little, too late now. He overspent last year’s budget and is well on his way to overspending this year’s budget. Mistakes are one thing. This is gross incompetence and a true lack of leadership and character from my perspective.