Crowd makes case for libraries, schools

What the crowd at last week’s Dale District community budget meeting lacked in size it made up in passion, as several speakers offered emotional pleas for county or school programs headed for the chopping block.

The March 18 meeting at Meadowbrook High School began with opening remarks from Dale District Supervisor Jim Holland and a budget presentation by Allan Carmody, the county’s budget and management director. Holland said the public hearing on the budget would take place Wednesday, March 24, and the supervisors would continue to make amendments based on resident comments until a spending plan was adopted on April 14.

Meadowbrook High School Librarian Shelley Murray shared the story of a student who entered ninth grade reading below grade level, but brought his skills to grade level and gained confidence with the help of the school’s reading specialist, who will be a part-time teacher next year. The school system’s spending plan for next year cuts 10 reading teachers, but 15 more could be cut if more funding is not provided, according to a presentation on the approved budget.

“It seems to me that the students in the Dale district need particular help and attention,” Murray said. There seems to be some sort of animosity or stalemate between the Board of Supervisors and the School Board, she said. She asked if officials could “get past this” so students in the district could get all the help they need.

Holland said what’s cut on the school side is the School Board’s decision, but he would cut areas other than reading teachers. School Board Chairman David Wyman said “this is a tough time” and there are very few dollars. The school system has to make difficult cuts, he said.

“Unfortunately, we’re tasked with cutting $42 million,” Wyman said. “We don’t like it, but that’s the way things are.”

Fred Grundeman, a director of Friends of the Chesterfield County Public Library, said he understood that officials adamantly supported schools and reading.

“If reading is so important, why are we closing the library one day a week?” he asked. “That makes no sense to me.” The money saved equates to a small percentage of the county’s budget, he said, but the cuts will affect a huge number of people in the community.

Frank Cardella, president of the Chesterfield Education Association, asked Holland for his personal position on the issues he was being asked about. Holland said he would not cut entire Parks and Recreation programs, such as the outdoors program, and he was “looking at the library now.”

“I’ve yet to make a final decision,” Holland said. “I want to make sure the cuts are fair and balanced across the board.”

Meadowbrook English teacher Lindsey March said fewer than 50 percent of the student’s she’s talked to have computer access at home. March stays after school with students who need to use the school’s computers, she said, and the computer lab is “packed” in the afternoons.

Grundeman said students leave Meadowbrook High every day to go to Meadowdale Library to work on assignments, and he didn’t know how reducing the opportunities they have to work there could be conscionable.

Cardella asked Holland why, if his priorities are students and education, he made the motion to set the advertised tax rate at 95 cents when the School Board and County Administrator Jay Stegmaier had recommended a revenue-neutral rate of $1.

“I felt like this is not the time to increase taxes in Chesterfield County,” Holland said.

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