By Kasey Trapuzzano
The Botetourt County Public Schools (BCPS) School Board held its regular June meeting at the School Board Office in Fincastle on June 9.
The meeting started at 5:30 p.m. and immediately went into a closed session until 6:30 p.m. After reconvening to a public meeting, the board heard public comments from two Botetourt County residents, Michael Duvall and Steven Barger. Duvall offered his appreciation to members of the board, BCPS administration and teachers.
“In a time as challenging, difficult, confusing and hard, so often words of appreciation and affirmation are few,” Duvall said. “I want to offer a couple tonight…please know this — you matter. You are important and you are appreciated.”
Barger, a retired combat veteran and father of four children, expressed his concern for the safety of BCPS students, following the mass school shooting in Uvalde, Texas on May 24. Barger proposed a veteran-based overwatch protection for the students of BCPS and presented the board with a petition from Botetourt County residents. Barger said he had another petition that wasn’t with him at the meeting with over 3,000 signatures.
“I trained for years to serve and protect the great nation from our enemies, both foreign and domestic,” Barger said. “Today, our enemies are domestic…I was able to come home and watch my best friends laid to rest for giving their life unselfishly for my children still left here at home. This I can accept…what I cannot accept is to sit back and watch the news and see another mass school shooting…Our vets have fought great battles only to come home and have our defenseless children murdered in school…at a place where they should be safe and remain safe, and sadly, they’re not. Members of the School Board, if you can sit there and honestly tell me that this could never happen in Botetourt County, I’m sorry to tell you… that you are severely naïve.”
Following public comment, the board unanimously motioned to accept the consent agenda. Next, the board unanimously approved the proposed rates of substitutes, rates of extra duty pay and summer rates of pay. The changes in rates affect almost 40 substitute positions for the 2022-23 academic school year and for this summer, which is considered to be from the start of summer school to the beginning of the new academic year in August. Dr. John Russ, the BCPS superintendent, said most of the changes to the rates are increases.
“We saw in the last two years that it’s increasingly harder to get substitutes,” Russ said. “At the same time, our neighboring school divisions have increased pay rates at all of these positions…. Some of these rates for the extra jobs, I’ve looked back beyond 10 years and can’t find a time that they were increased. So, they are increased — not as much as I would like to, but we’re going to have to ease into that. We’ve got to raise these rates to compete with other divisions.”
Russ made his monthly superintendent’s report on budget and finance, human resources and student services, instruction, maintenance and operations, and technology. During the report, Russ said the budget and finance department attended the Botetourt County Board of Supervisors meeting on May 24 to obtain a budget appropriation of excess revenue in the school nutrition fund. Additionally, Russ said the budget and finance department is in the process of submitting federal and state reimbursement requests for payments for FY22 grant program activity.
The human resources department is hosting a job fair on June 23 from 4-7 p.m. at Lord Botetourt High School, Russ said. Specifically, BCPS is looking for personnel positions including mechanics, maintenance staff, custodians, nutrition staff, school nurses and instructional assistants. Russ also said an order has been placed with the Virginia Department of Health (VHD) to secure stock Naloxone nasal spray (NARCAN) for the treatment of an opioid overdose.
In terms of school maintenance, Russ said heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) contractors replaced rooftop compressors at Eagle Rock Elementary School and replaced a unit in room 137 at Lord Botetourt High School. The maintenance department also removed old furniture from the human resources department and cleared several cedar bushes at the front of Botetourt Technical Education Center (BTEC), Russ said.
Russ said discipline incidents are being audited in PowerSchool to ensure they’re entered according to the Student Behavior and Administrative Response Collection requirements.
Lastly, Russ discussed the safety and security of the buildings, faculty and staff of BCPS. Russ said there’s a lot of work that goes into safety, security and school crisis plans that isn’t made public. All school crisis plans are currently being updated this summer and are due into the central office by July 8. The school crisis plans will be presented to the School Board at the August 11 meeting and Russ said the plans will be reviewed with all staff prior to the beginning of the school year.
“None of us can have the mentality that [school crises] can never happen here,” Russ said.
Russ said BCPS has been awarded a grant to participate in a digital mapping program for Virginia K-12 schools. All BCPS schools will have a digital floor plan that can be accessed by cellphones, laptops and other devices that gives the ability for a quick, uniform response by all first responders, instead of having to wait for a hard copy of the floor plan if called to a school for a crisis, Russ said. A date has not been set for when the digital mapping program will go into place.
Russ said a group of administrators will be attending the Virginia School Safety Training Forum in Hampton in July. The next BCPS school safety planning committee is on June 22.
Board member Tim Davidick said BCPS needs to ensure it’s fully funded in its budget in order to achieve these safety measures and more — Russ agreed. Two years ago, addressing these safety measures would’ve cost at least $1 million, Davidick said. With today’s inflation, however, it’ll cost even more.
“I can’t sugar coat it,” Russ said. “It’s going to take money and funding to address some of these [safety measures]. But at the same time, I’m not going to be the one that backs off of safety because of money. If we’re going to talk that safety is our top priority, then we’re going to have to fund our top priority.”
School Board Chair Anna Weddle, board member Matt East, and Davidick added that while the county has done things over the last few years to improve the schools’ safety, including new locks on doors at Cloverdale Elementary, there’s still more substantial things that need to be done.
“You can’t put a price tag on safety, especially when it comes to kids,” East said.
Following the superintendent’s report, Brandon Lee, BCPS director of finance, provided his monthly FY23 budget update. Lee said there’s additional funding from the approved budget versus the House version of the budget that was adopted, as hoped. Lee said this additional money will allow the position of satisfactory academic progress (SAP) counselor to be funded once again — a position board members were sad to see go, Lee said. Lee also said one of the reasons there’s additional funding is because there’s $2 million of school construction funding in the budget.
Board member Jenny Wilson asked Lee if the $2 million earmarked for construction could be used for the construction of vestibules at schools, which are passageways between the outer door and the interior of a building. Both Lee and Russ said they believe the money could be used for that purpose but are still reading the “fine print” of the funding to be certain. Davidick said he hopes the money can be used for that safety measure.
“If you go to any of our schools, there’s a door and you’re in the school,” Davidick said. “The idea of a vestibule is to have a door and another door so that there’s a space where you can confine someone — a holding area — until we can verify that that person has legitimate business in the school. This is an important piece of our safety plan.”
After the budget update, Lee presented the ESSER III Spending Plan to the board, which is federal money that was given to each school district following the COVID-19 pandemic. The BCPS ESSER III Spending Plan must be updated every six months and has money allocated toward the pay of staff to operate summer academy, the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) cost to pay staff for summer academy, the substitute rate of pay increases, mental health support, cleaning supplies, chemicals, equipment and personal protective equipment (PPE) for schools, the upgrade of air quality systems, and school buses, for a total of $3,009,939.04. Funds must be spent by September 30, 2024, and at least 20% of the money must go toward items that address learning loss. Lee said the $431,805 allocated toward school buses has already been spent, but the rest of the money remains untouched. Since 2024 is two years away, Lee said the plans could change depending on how needs develop over the next school years.
“This is a plan,” Davidick said. “We’re going to execute as necessary, but this is just a guide — and I think it’s a good guide.”
The next regular School Board meeting will be held on July 14 at 5:30 p.m. To watch June’s School Board meeting in its entirety, visit https://www.bcps.live/archives/. To read this month’s School Board agenda package, visit https://go.boarddocs.com/vsba/bcps/Board.nsf/Public.