‘Please don’t sacrifice middle school’: Virginia Beach School Board hears community concerns on budget proposal

Virginia Beach School Board
Community members expressed their concerns with the proposed 2017-18 budget during Tuesday’s School Board meeting. (Mariah Pohl)

VIRGINIA BEACH — Teachers, bus drivers, and community members appeared in front of the Virginia Beach School Board Tuesday to share their concerns about the superintendent’s proposed 2017-18 estimate of needs.

Currently, the average middle school teacher oversees four classes and 120 students. Under the proposed $742.1 million budget, many middle school teachers will be expected to take on a fifth course, which would bring the headcount to around 150 students per teacher, according to superintendent Aaron Spence.

The proposal, which also includes a 2 percent pay raise for all full-time VBCPS employees, would result in a $5.8 million cost savings, Spence said.

“This proposal is a slippery slope that we should not implement,” Virginia Beach Education Association president Kelly Walker said. “An overworked, underpaid teacher is not in the best interest of the students.”

According to Walker, a 2 percent raise is not enough to compensate for significant increases to health care costs and accelerated contributions to the Virginia retirement system.

“The trend is clear,” she said. “More and more is asked of employees without just compensation.”

Walker’s concerns about the proposed class increase were echoed by Jeffrey Cobb, a 6th grade social studies teacher at Princess Anne Middle School.

“Surely, you don’t think that my colleagues and I are underworked,” he said. “I thought Virginia Beach prided itself in going beyond what other divisions provide for their students.”

In defense of the proposal during a School Board workshop last Tuesday, Spence explained the five-course policy is common throughout most other school districts and is not expected to have a negative impact on students.

But many teachers said they will be unable to provide the same level of dedication to their students if the proposal is implemented.

“What will be lost? Differentiated instruction, timely feedback, and expanded use of technology in my lessons,” Salem Middle School teacher Kim Robillard said. “I understand the challenges you face, but please don’t sacrifice middle school.”

The money-saving proposal comes as a result of competing obligations within the division. According to Spence, the division is also working to address the need for 50 new school buses, demands for bus driver pay increases, and $46 million in unmet technology needs.

In addition to community disapproval, the proposal has received criticism from several School Board members.

During last Tuesday’s workshop, Carolyn Weems said many teachers will likely have to work unpaid hours outside of school to keep up with the demands of their classes.

“A lot of teachers already have trouble planning,” she said. “Adding a fifth class will make it impossible.”

Board members will continue to consider the proposed estimate of needs before approving a budget in March.

Pohl may be reached at mariah@localvoicemedia.com

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