Blue Ridge considers returning to pre-Labor Day start

BY STACI WILSON

Blue Ridge is contemplating a change to the post-Labor Day start of school that’s been in place for the past two years.

At its Monday workshop meeting, board members discussed the merits and drawbacks of a late August start date. While some members hailed the schedule that’s been in place, others argued for a return to the earlier school start.

School director Chris Whitney said a “big break” – caused by Labor Day weekend – was disruptive to the community, adding that some families schedule vacations for that time.

Harold Empett countered that he would rather not “disrupt another 1,000 kids for 50.”

“I’ve been on the board for 15 years,” Empett said.”(The August start) worked fine.”

Board member Michael Detwiler said that getting students back into class earlier made sense from an educational perspective.

And Dean Lewis, a transportation contractor for the district, said school bus inspections take place at the end of June. The earlier start date – and expected earlier end of school – would allow contractors an additional week to prepare for the annual inspections.

Student board rep Julia Stanley said the consensus among students she had spoken with was to start before Labor Day. Students preferred an earlier start to their summer break, she said.

A teacher in the audience attempted to offer her thoughts on the calendar, but was told the work session was not the forum for public participation. Public input would be heard by the board only in the business meeting.

Board members said they would seek guidance from their constituents; and without a consensus, the calendar will not likely be presented for the board’s approval at the March 3 business meeting.

Monday night’s agenda is likely to have a motion to exonerate the local tax collectors from collecting the over $422,000 delinquent school taxes. “The county will chase those funds for us,” Superintendent Robert McTeirnan said.
He also told the board he was seeking a proposal from a company that would “buy” the district’s delinquent taxes. The company would then, he said, give the district a check.

Board President Laurie Bonner asked how much the district typically recoups of the delinquent taxes. That information was not known at the meeting.

The facilities and grounds committee suggested the school move ahead with repairs to the gymnasium roof over the storage area. That part of the roof, Empett said, was beyond repair. The committee is advocating the entire roof be tested.

Board member Shane Rumage said the hope is the district can extend some of its warranties.

The testing would be paid for out of the maintenance budget.

Another item requiring attention is not in the budget. The committee is proposing the replacement of the stairs leading to the track.

The finance committee has started its work on the preliminary 2014-15 budget.

McTiernan said he has also evaluated the governor’s proposed budget. He noted that the basic education budget was level funded for the coming year; and that funding for the accountability block grant Blue Ridge uses to help fund its kindergarten program for 4-year-olds remains intact.

He also mentioned the governor’s proposed targeted funding that could be used for programs, such as, Ready to Read by third grade, STEM, and supplemental instruction.

Whitney said she didn’t see the proposed funding as “free money” but rather as a way to pay for the programs put forth by the district due to previously “unfunded mandates” from the state.

The board also discussed how monies raised at last year’s golf tournament should be spent. About $3,000 is left, after $5,000 in scholarships was awarded.

Several board members advocated for using some of the cash to help pay for field trips for students who can not afford the costs associated with the trip.

The board also discussed using the available funds to help an economically disadvantaged but promising student pay for SAT or Advance Placement testing.

Also noted was the fact that students fundraise in order to cover expenses associated with the commencement exercises – from covering the cost of the caps and gowns, to flowers and refreshments.

“Why don’t we pay for that as a school?” Bonner asked.

Stanley asked about the status of Spanish classes.

McTiernan said the district is looking at alternatives for the class for the remainder of the year, including use of Rosetta Stone for instruction.
Students in French classes have been using the language program since the beginning of the school year.

Stanley also said the school’s dress code is not clear. “It depends person-to-person who gets yelled at,” she told the board.

Rumage agreed stating that the enforcement of the dress code needed to be more consistent.

The Blue Ridge School Board will hold its business meeting, Monday, March 3 at 7 p.m. in the school cafeteria.