Our local county school district is facing budget cuts. The letter below was sent by one of the teachers. The meeting to decide budget for the schools is at 5:30 pm on Monday, March 13 at 150 South Main Street. We need 50 Ways-Rockbridge members to show up and voice our concerns:
I am writing to you to express my concerns about the state of education in the Rockbridge County Schools, and Rockbridge County High School in particular, and to solicit help with addressing these concerns. I am writing as a citizen of Lexington of 20 years who has two children who started in our city schools in the first grade. One is currently in 7th grade, and one is now a sophomore at RCHS. I am also a teacher at RCHS (in my 14th year there), and helped to found the PTSA there, serving on its board for four years. I also recently began serving on the city’s Planning Commission. Many of you know me, and I hope that you will consider that this letter is coming from a place of genuine concern, as well as a reasonable understanding of these matters.
While you are quite well aware of and currently trying to tackle the problems of our own city schools budget, you are probably also aware of the difficulties the county schools have been having. The teachers at RCHS received quite a dire forecast about the budget for the coming year at our most recent faculty meeting (and we read the news). And, quite frankly, the teachers (and the rest of the employees at RCHS) have decided that enough is enough. The continuing refusal on the part of the Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors to adequately fund their schools has created what can only be seen as a crisis situation for the RCPS and RCHS, in particular. We just do not have enough people in the building to provide a safe and educationally adequate environment for all of our students. The administration of the county schools is markedly understaffed, as is the faculty, administration and non-teaching support staff at RCHS. Funds for educational resources are lacking, not to mention facilities maintenance. Of course, we never know until the county board of supervisors finalizes their overall budget what the school’s budget will look like. But what we are looking at potentially (and hearing in rumors swirling about) are reductions in classes offered to students (especially AP, Honors, and advanced level classes), swelling class sizes, reductions in resources for the teachers to do their jobs (a recent survey by our yearbook found that our teachers already spend a combined $11,000 out of their own pockets to make up for inadequate funding!), and who knows what other cuts that will need to be made to find savings (sports? extra-curricular activities? extra help for struggling and / or gifted students?). Teacher compensation is also woefully inadequate, but that pales beside the difficulties we face in trying to do what is right for the kids. Simply put, for too long, we have all been expected to do more but are given less support. While there are certainly wonderful things going on at the high school, the time has come to acknowledge that we are not the school we once were or should be.
I hope I don’t need to spell out what this has to do with you, and why I am writing to you. You don’t write the county budget; you don’t have seats on the county school board or board of supervisors. But you are the leaders of our community, and we look to you to safeguard our most important resource: our children. I hope that we think of raising, educating, and looking to the welfare of our children as our top priority. For the past 25 years, our city has sent its children and its money to the county high school, and simply hoped for the best. I think it is long past time to take a more pro-active approach. I’m sure you all saw the article in the March 1st News-Gazette, headlined, “County Schools Eye $1 Million Budget Hike,” with its lead sentence, “Suppose they gave a public hearing, and no one came.” Well, for too long now we’ve heard from the county school board and board of supervisors that they never hear from people, no one complains, so they think they’re doing a fine job. The public hears about great achievements of our students, and all the fine teachers we have. But the public does not hear enough about the strain and the drain that comes with years of inadequate investment in education. I think that we as a city need to start demanding from the county that the high school where we send our kids be a place where students can have their needs met in a safe, supportive, and educationally adequate environment.
A couple years back, the county came to us saying we weren’t paying our fair share for the kids we were sending to the high school. I believe it was a rather contentious situation at first, but eventually, if I recall correctly, the issue was resolved through a fair and reasonable process. I think we would be justified in approaching the county to ask that we be assured that our kids are getting what we are paying for. Might this entail the city paying some more for our kids at RCHS? Maybe. But if we are going to insist that the county prioritize education and up its funding to reflect a proper investment in education, then we might have to be willing to put our money where our mouth is, as well.
I’m not sure how our city would go about this, and that is why I am approaching you all. But I do know for certain that it is time for the city to take a greater interest in advocating for our kids and their post-middle school education. So I am asking that our city council, school board, and school district leadership begin a broad conversation about how we can educate ourselves about this and how we can act on it. I am both a parent and teacher at RCHS, and I am telling you that I think things are really bad. My sense is that I am not alone in this belief and in wanting to take some action. I would like to hear what you all have to say, and to hear that you all are starting to talk about these issues.