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School officials mull enrollment, capital improvements at session

posted Dec 7, 2016, 12:52 PM by Kathy Hughes   [ updated Dec 7, 2016, 12:52 PM ]
Nelson County school busCourtesy of Nelson County Times

During a work session last Thursday, the Nelson County School Board completed its first overview of the 2017-18 budget process. Topics discussed at length included concerns about enrollment and its implications on funding and the division’s comprehensive improvement plan.

According to Assistant Superintendent for Administration Shannon Irvin, enrollment is expected to drop over the next few years. In the 2017-18 school year, school officials expect a total enrollment of 1,820 students, a decrease of nine students from the current school year.

The number, Irvin explained, is projected based on 92 percent of the number live births five years earlier of Nelson County residents. Irvin said the 92 percent figure is used because historically, the division has found 8 percent of the number of children born five years earlier do not attend a public school in the county, opting instead to home school or attend a private school, for example.

For the 2018-19 school year, enrollment is expected to take a more troubling dive; the division is expecting 41 fewer students at 1,779. In the 2019-2020 school year, the number is expected to hit 1,723.

The total number of students is factored into how much funding the division receives from the state each year.

“Either way you look at it, we’re going to have do some reductions in some places,” Superintendent Jeff Comer said. “… We have to a plan in place going forward.”

He added a key component in the budget each year, and especially in the upcoming school year, is the local contribution from the Board of Supervisors. He said the county historically has been very good to the division, contributing well above the required local contribution in many past years.

Comer also said moving forward, the division is somewhat concerned about potential increases in health care costs.

“The fact that we’ve had two years with no increases,” Comer said, “you know our luck is going to run out.”

After taking a close look at the proposed capital improvement plan, board members agreed the projects that were separated into four categories based on priority should instead be grouped into two categories.

The new categories are separated into Priority 1 and Priority 2 based on what projects the board believes have become necessities.

The chief desire of the board is to receive funds from the county for security upgrades across the division. Those security upgrades include new cameras at Tye River and Rockfish River elementary schools and panic buttons at each of the four schools that would allow officials to immediately alert local law enforcement to major dangers. The security upgrades come with an expected price tag of $100,000.

Among other Priority 1 projects are four new buses with digital camera systems, a weather barrier and mold abatement at Tye River and an engineering study of the currently unused basement area at Nelson County High School.

Before last Thursday’s discussion, the study was proposed as only dealing with the fine arts programming at the high school and Nelson Middle School. Comer explained directors for the band and chorus programs desire more space and are unable to hold certain classes at desired times because of some scheduling issues.

Board members decided rather than just looking at those programs, which likely wouldn’t be suited to move to the unused area, they want a study to look at the possibility of moving other programs, like drama or an alternative education program.

All proposed capital improvement projects are expected to cost just more than $4.5 million. If adopted, the 16 projects in the new Priority 1 category would total about $2.7 million. Nine projects in the new Priority 2 category would total about $1.8 million.

Proposed improvements to the concession stand adjacent to the football field also received vocal support from the board. Vice Chairman Dave Francis and board member Ceasar Perkins spoke at length about the lack of permanent restrooms and ill-equipped concession stand that could be addressed if the $250,000 request were funded.

In the board’s regular November meeting, Francis called the fact the school provides portable toilets as its main restroom facilities for athletic events “embarrassing.”

Perkins agreed with the concern, saying the lack of restrooms could preclude the high school from hosting playoffs or any similar events in the future.

Francis also said, however, he understands “the difference between a pipe dream and reality” and agreed with the rest of the board members that it was not their top priority, just something they feel should be addressed soon.

The board is expected to adopt the capital improvement plan at its monthly meeting this Thursday, Dec. 8.

Photo by:  Lee Luther, Jr.