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Funding, Bus Drivers and Calendars Highlight First School Board Meeting in Chesterfield

Three people sitting at large desk
Chesterfield County's School Superintendent Merv Daugherty led the first meeting of the year for the newly elected School Board until Debbie Bailey (right) and Dot Heffron (left) were elected Chair and Vice Chair. (Photo: Ian Stewart/VPM News)

One of the first orders of business for the all new five-member Chesterfield School board was to elect a Chair and Vice-Chair. Those titles went to Debbie Bailey of the Dale District and Dorothy “Dot” Heffron of the Clover District.

From there, the board quickly ran through and approved their first consent agenda, which included approving nearly 90 new hires. But only six of those positions are bus drivers. The county still needs about 30 more. The County raised the hourly rate for drivers to over $15 last year. A spokesperson said the district will continue recruiting at job fairs. 

Budget Talk

Budget season is here and the board will start their annual budget workshops in the coming weeks. And while they work out a budget to send for approval to the Board of Supervisor later on in the year, they’ll do so while still waiting to see how much funding schools receive once Governor Ralph Northam’s budget is approved by the General Assembly. 

Bailey said that school funding tops the needs list. And Heffron says the district is still below pre-recession funding from the state which puts the onus on local government to close the gap. According to the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, Chesterfield is 10-percent below pre-recession levels. The 2013 Bond Referendum enabled the district to replace many old schools, including Reams, Old Hundred, and Enon Elementary schools. 

Heffron said additional funding for schools could come from options like a new bond referendum or a meals tax. 

“We’re not building hundred million dollar coliseums in Chesterfield County, we just want to fix the school buildings and pay bus drivers,” Heffron said.

Heffron says the board will soon make a case to the public about closing the school funding gap. 

The 2020-21 Calendar 

Despite Henrico schools having already published their 2020-21 calendar, Chesterfield schools are still in the design stages of putting together theirs. The previous board left this task to the new board. 

Some proposed additions to the calendar to add the holidays of Yom Kippur and Eid al-Fitr. Heffron said she wants the calendar to reflect the growing diversity of the county. And she added that she’d also like to see Three Kings Day possibly inserted too. 

“Chesterfield County has a growing Hispanic population and I think that it’s worthwhile for us to take a look at how we can recognize holidays that are important to that community as well,” Heffron said. 

The board will accept public input before the calendar is approved in March. 

Legionella Bacteria and Cooling Towers

Last year, the Virginia Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control investigated multiple cases of Legionnaires’ disease in the county. Part of that investigation found several school cooling towers showed traces of the Legionella bacteria. 

Vice-Chair Dot Heffron said Tuesday that the county is ready for any possible outbreaks.

“It’s my understanding that we have a maintenance schedule in place, specifically for the cooling towers that we have, that we're following recommended protocols for the maintenance of those cooling towers,” said Heffron.

Both the Virginia Department of Health and the CDC found no link between any Chesterfield County school and those who have contracted Legionnaires' disease in the county. In the General Assembly, Democratic Senator Ghazala F. Hashmi (District 10) has introduced Senate Bill 410, which “Requires each school board to test each public school building in the local school division for the presence of Legionella bacteria at such regular intervals as the school board deems necessary to maintain the health and decency of such buildings”

Overcrowded Schools

They may tackle countywide redistricting in the coming year due to overcrowded schools, said Bailey, a former social studies teacher. She said many schools are over capacity. 

The past school board dealt with overcrowded schools by doing isolated redistricting. Bailey says that isn’t possible, especially in her district.

“So there’s no room to redistrict anywhere. There isn’t really any spot redistricting available because there really isn’t any empty seats,” said Bailey.

Bailey says she’d like to see a countywide redistricting take place, but only after slated new schools are built and a new Bond Referendum is in place.

Ian M. Stewart previously was the transportation reporter and fill-in anchor for VPM News.
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