BY TAFT COGHILL JR.
FREDERICKSBURG FREE PRESS
The Spotsylvania County School Board voted 6-1 Monday night to submit a budget request to the Board of Supervisors that includes a $46.8 million gap in local funding.
Berkeley District representative April Gillespie was the lone board member who voted against the budget.
Lisa Phelps (Lee Hill) expressed concern about the gap during a work session last week but ultimately voted in favor of the budget, which is more than $480 million overall.
“I believe the Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors, Mr. Chris Yakabouski of the Battlefield District and Mr. Kevin Marshall of the Berkeley District are adequately informed of the detrimental effects to the school division and what it seems to be their consistent voting of more and more residences to be built in Spotsylvania County,” Phelps said of her reasoning to support the budget.
The school board will present its budget to the supervisors on Feb. 20. The supervisors will meet on Feb. 27 to set an advertised tax rate. That will be followed on March 28 with a public hearing at Courtland High School. April 4 is the earliest the supervisors can legally adopt a fiscal year 2025 budget, which kicks in July 1. Budget adoption is set for April 9.
Gillespie debated with other school board members Monday night about whether to make cuts before submitting the request to the supervisors.
“We are going to be taking this budget to people who do not specialize in education, with the exception of [Salem District supervisor Deborah Frazier], and they will make the choices on what to cut,” Gillespie said.
Gillespie added that, if the tax rate is increased, it will put additional strain on families that are already financially distressed in her district, which is more rural than the other localities in the county. She said when she campaigned door to door, she noticed people living in shacks that she initially mistook for a shed.
“You’re asking for the people who don’t have anything, that are depending on assistance, to pay more taxes so you can get better education,” Gillespie said. “I’m sorry but where I come from, God, having a roof over your head and food in your belly is a little more important than paying taxes so I can keep up with the Jones’ in Fairfax County and Stafford County.”
Carol Medawar, Courtland District representative, said an overhaul of the school board through the November election gives the current board a mandate that voters want schools fully funded and supported.
She said years of underfunding is what led to this “crisis moment” that requires more support for teachers, special education and other resources. She also noted that with funds ending from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund, an additional financial burden will be placed on localities.
“We funded things with ESSER, and we knew those funds were going away,” Medawar said.
Nicole Cole of the Battlefield District reiterated her message from the work session that it is not the job of the school board to trim the budget, stating that “if we don’t put forward a budget that actually shows what our needs are, then the board of supervisors will never know what it means to properly fund this department.”
Monday’s meeting was held at the John J. Wright Educational and Cultural Center in recognition of Black History Month.
In addition to approving the budget, the school board recognized 31 teachers of the year at various schools across the county. They announced that Riverbend High School French teacher Beth Marshall is the county teacher of the year and will move on to the state competition.