City council candidates talk lynchburg city schools funding, future strategies local news what is the highest level of education you can achieve

As the current lynchburg city council stares down flat tax revenues and weighs cuts to public education funding in the upcoming fiscal year, the fate of the city’s school system also is on the minds of the seven candidates fighting to claim the three council seats up for grabs may 1 at-large election.

While all of the candidates, regardless of their political views, voiced support for public education, there are a variety of different perspectives on how the city should address the mounting needs for facilities, lagging teacher salaries and costs associated with unfunded mandates from the federal and state governments.

Earlier this month, during the ongoing budget negotiations where lynchburg city schools is fending off a proposed budget cut of $748,465 from the city, interim superintendent larry massie made comments both during a budget worksession and the quarterly town & gown meeting between city officials and higher education leaders about how the school system could reduce costs by potentially consolidating elementary schools and trimming staff members that he says are not necessary.Level funding

In preparation for the arrival of new school superintendent crystal edwards, who starts work monday, massie said he and his staff are in the process of analyzing all of the departments to find ways things could be handled more efficiently.

Independent candidates vice mayor treney tweedy, beau wright, republican-endorsed al billingsly and incumbent city council member randy nelson are in favor of massie’s move to find redundancies in the school system and reimagine how the school system could function better with the funds that are available.

Billingsly, a former school board member, agreed with massie about the possibility of consolidating elementary schools and other significant changes to how the city’s education system is run as opposed to simply increasing revenue for the division.

“I’m a big believer in public education, but as a city, we’d have to look [at] really where the money would be best spent,” he said.City council “we give a fair amount to the schools. I would certainly give as much as we could, but I wouldn’t sacrifice another project that may be more important just to give more money to the schools.”

Wright said if he were elected to council, he would like to be involved heavily in the conversations about the schools budget because what is on the table to be cut would be a huge factor in deciding whether or not to appropriate more revenue to LCS.

“I think a lot of the questions city council were asking [in march] and what they were trying to get at is ‘what exactly would [LCS] cut?’ and ‘what are the certain positions that might not be meeting the needs of the school system anymore?’” wright said. “I know dr. Massie was not ready to talk about those details, but we need to know.”

In order to pay for raises for teachers who long have been advocating for more compensation, nelson said the division should follow massie’s lead on cutting costs and culling administrative positions to use those funds to better compensate the staff who work directly with the city’s children every day.School system

“if the city is to increase teachers’ pay, the revenue for those pay increases should come from cutting overstaffing in school administrative positions as well as finding greater efficiencies in school division’s operations and procedures,” nelson said in an email. “additionally, the commonwealth of virginia needs to better fulfill its constitutional obligation to fund suitable pay levels for its public school teachers, rather than so readily shifting its responsibility to localities.”

According to virginia department of education data from the 2016-17 school year, LCS teachers started with a salary of $38,760, lagging behind the pay scales for the neighboring counties of appomattox, which starts at $39,500; bedford, which starts at $39,227; amherst, with starting pay of $39,000; and nelson, with beginning salaries of $45,176. With the exception of bedford, those school divisions are markedly smaller than lynchburg, with student populations that run from 1,837 students in nelson, 2,180 students in appomattox county and an enrollment of 3,931 in amherst.Level funding

“we have to look at what we’re doing internally and how do we maximize the dollars that we have; that’s why that deep analysis of our spending on our programs has to be part of the conversation,” tweedy said. “we have to know that we’re utilizing all of our funding to benefit us the most through analysis in order to potentially be able to reappropriate funds toward those priorities, whether it be building projects or our staff wages.”

Democrats katie webb cyphert and derek polley are advocating strongly for more funding to address school facilities and other needs. Polley, who currently sits on the school board, is especially dismayed the city’s proposed budget does not award level funding for the division.

“I was kind of confused to hear [city council members] say, ‘yes, I support public schools,’ but also hear them saying they don’t support level funding,” he said.School system “it’s one or the other. If you support public schools, you support level funding. If you don’t support level funding, then you don’t support local schools.”

Polley went on to say cutting funding for the school system at the same time the city is in the midst of a large-scale initiative to combat the city’s 24 percent poverty rate was counterintuitive.

“we know how important education is to improve any population that is heavily affected by poverty,” polley said. “if the poverty rate is sincerely a priority of the city, I do not see how education is not a sincere top financial priority of the city.”

In the same vein, cyphert said massie’s comments about LCS’ facilities being some of the poorest facilities he’s ever seen in mid-march were “hard facts.” while she acknowledged the cost of renovating and building new schools, she said it should be a priority of the city to keep those buildings in shape for students to learn in.Level funding

In order to address these challenges, cyphert said the community will have to take a hard look at the possibility of making cuts or possibly raising taxes to pay for the division’s needs.

“we’ve done a tax increase before,” cyphert said. “I’m surprised this year to look at prior years and specifically last year, when we were looking at the possibility of three different tax increases, that we have gotten to this point with police department staffing and school infrastructure and some of the other cuts, and [a tax increase] is not even on the table. Is it my first choice? Absolutely not, but people in this community need to ask themselves if they want to look at changing the district lines or are we looking to make some additional investment.”

Independent and former vice mayor ceasor johnson said he also is concerned about school facilities and hopes the city and LCS can work together in a similar fashion to the lead-up to the construction of the new heritage high school that broke ground in 2014.Cyphert said the project was paid for by the city building up a reserve over time so the city did not have to take on as much debt or raise taxes on residents.

Overall he touted his record as being a part of the city council that oversaw the construction of both heritage and a new sandusky middle school in 2010 without tax increases for city residents.

“I think that’s the prudent thing to do when you’re facing the america that we’re living in so we don’t overspend or overreach our grasp because the citizens have to pay that money,” johnson said. “you have to have citizen buy in and not just go out on your own as a council and put up four or five new schools just because we’re falling behind. You have to try to figure out a way that you can do it without breaking the backs of your people because you’ve got all of these other services that we’re still responsible for.”