Thursday, January 31, 2013

Making lemonade

It’s budget time again in Goochland County. The Supervisors and School Board are carefully scrutinizing funding requests for the next fiscal year, which begins on July 1. Following public hearings on the budget, the supervisors will set the tax rate for calendar 2013 in mid-April.

Once again, they are using a great deal of ingenuity to fund core services with limited resources. Once again, hard choices must be made.

The January 22 public hearing on the proposed 2013-14 school budget included informative exchanges between Superintendent Dr. James Lane and the School Board that illustrate the paradigm shift in budget processes, and attitudes, from days of yore.

For the third time in a row schools were told by the county to expect level funding. Instead of throwing a tantrum and warning that failure to increase school spending would unleash a “death spiral” for Goochland education, the school board calmly developed a budget using those numbers.

Last fall, the school board and Lane decided to build a budget around three priorities: attraction and retention of high quality teachers, administration and staff; to maintain or enhance innovative instructional programs; and increase the operational efficiency of the school division.

Every school board member rolled up their sleeves and looked hard at every penny in the budget seeking ways to contain costs without impinging on the quality of education. Working closely with Lane and other school staff, they found ways to: pay for a school nurse at every school; increase the number of slots for the Maggie L. Walker and Blue Ridge governors’ schools; begin a career and technical education program; and even shake loose a few dollars for the band and new science equipment.

(For the detail oriented, extensive information on the proposed budget is available on the school website: . Live streams of school board meetings are also there.)


The January 22 discussion was quite technical. The school board displayed intimate knowledge and understanding of the complex funding mechanisms involved in public education. Lane’s grasp of the details of the school division is especially impressive given that he officially started work in mid-December. 

Following Lane’s presentation, there was discussion about a few items and tweaks were suggested. The evening was so productive that an additional session scheduled for January 29 was eliminated. This board does a great job of building consensus among its members.

Only one person spoke during the two public comment periods. Few people attended the meeting. It seems likely that many more were watching the live stream of the meeting online.

Two years ago, irate parents packed school board budget meetings demanding answers—that they rarely received--about funding reductions. Those meetings were not even recorded and school board members rarely returned phone calls or answered emails.

In 2013, several of those irate parents are on the school board. They return phone calls and answer emails to make sure that parents understand the school budget. Lane has also pledged to be accessible and responsive to parents and citizens.

Would the school board like to have more money for our educational system? Of course, but it realizes the reality of the current economy. However, just in case the county finds a little extra change in the couch cushions, they also have prioritized a list of expenditures that did not make it into the budget.

Our schools are moving forward in pursuit of excellence. Lane believes that Goochland Schools can be among the best in the Commonwealth and began pursuing that goal from day one with the full support of the School Board. Instead of whining about getting lemons, our schools are making lemonade for the benefit of all. How sweet it is!



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