By Matt de Simone
The Botetourt County School Board held the October meeting on Nov. 10 at the Central Administration Office in Fincastle.
As previously reported, the board recognized the October Employees of the Month: Buchanan teacher Lori Wentworth and James River High School head custodian Dan Garrison, along with Lord Botetourt High School math teacher Jimmy Yager as the Kiwanis Educator of the Year.
During the public comment period, the board received comments from one parent who expressed concerns about trailers added to Colonial Elementary School. The man stated that one month into the 2022-23 schoolyear, his “second grade child lost her classroom because two children [were added] to first grade.” The man said four classrooms were “cut out of the building,” stating that Principal Tammy Riggs said “they were needed.”
The parrnt mentioned he heard from Colonial Elementary employees that trailers were going to be added outside of the school. The man asked for a little more transparency about informing parents about future plans regarding changes such as this.
“At this time, there is no plan or conversation regarding Colonial Elementary trailers,” Superintendent Dr. Jonathan Russ said when recently asked about the situation. “If numbers continue to rise, that would be a topic for discussion.”
Following the board accepting the evening’s consent agenda, Russ addressed the FY23 employee bonus recommendation. He recommended to the board that at the end of the next pay period (end of November), a bonus be included for full-time ($1,000) and part-time employees ($500). He explained money was included in the governor’s budget “for the purpose of giving educators a bonus.” The amount of money given to each division is to cover the bonus for all Standards of Quality (SOQ) positions. The board approved the employee bonuses.
“Every school division in Virginia has positions beyond SOQ positions,” Russ said. “In order to [give bonuses] to all ful-time employees, it will take money beyond the money provided from the state. We are allowed and, in fact, encouraged a little bit to use some of the ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) money to make up the difference… to be able to give all full-time [employees] $1,000 and all part-time [employees] $500.”
Buchanan School Board representative Jenny Wilson asked Dr. Russ about the ESSER budget the school system received in June (ESSER III spending plan). Russ said the money is there until the end of 2024. He said that there are “several areas and not one specific category” in order to give this bonus to employees. The spending plan gave leeway to give these bonuses and “are we’re not taking away or pulling away from other places where [those monies] were needed.”
School Board Chair Anna Weddle pointed out that even though the Botetourt County Board of Supervisors approved the money, it’s not county money/taxpayer money.
The board extended Russ’s employment to June 30, 2026. The contract reads the same except the board reduced raises to 1% and his current salary remains the same.
“We’re very happy that [Russ] is interested in staying here in Botetourt,” Weddle said. “I think all of the board thinks he’s done a wonderful job. The past few years have been surviving COVID but now that we are past the day-to-day COVID problems, we have a lot of initiatives to look forward to.”
Russ expressed his gratitude and looks forward to what’s next for BCPS.
As for the informational items, Dr. Russ made his monthly superintendent’s report. During the report, Russ updated the board on the FY24 budget documents already dispersed to school administrators and department heads to begin planning for the upcoming budget. He spoke about meetings of the BCPS New Teacher Academy and the School Health Advisory Board.
Russ also mentioned Lightspeed Classroom is being piloted in selected classrooms. The software allows teachers to monitor Chromebook use during class time and focus student attention on lesson-specific digital content. Basically, the teachers can see what’s on the students’ laptops during class. “And, [the teachers] can change that,” Russ added.
Wilson asked Russ about the enrollment number versus the current budget, which was built on 4,328 students. Russ informed the board that the September ADM (average daily membership) came in at 4,364 students. Although the ADM was higher, Russ said that it’s “good news” to have a few more students. He recognized the work of the budget department for being “on-target for the anticipated number of students.”
Wilson spoke of attending a Central Academy Middle School basketball game where they played a school in Lexington. She mentioned that she asked a parent of the away team if sixth graders were allowed to play, to which the parent said “yes.” Russ feels like BCPS is poised to include sixth graders in spring school sports activities.
Russ said, “I’m still not sold on sixth graders participating in middle school football yet. Of course, that season’s behind us but with the sporting teams we fielded in the spring, I feel comfortable that this is a possibility. So, we are going to put our foot on the gas pedal and start looking at this more. I’m confident that [sixth graders’ inclusion in spring sports] is something that we can make happen in spring.”
Russ mentioned that this decision “doesn’t come with any guarantees and there some conversations to have with middle schools,” but he added that BCPS and parents have to understand that if BCPS chooses to expand the teams when adding sixth graders, it will come with a little more cost (more uniforms, paying referees, etc.).
Valley board representative Tim Davidick mentioned being “on the fence” about sixth graders playing middle school football. He asked Russ if he would allow sixth graders to participate in every sport. The superintendent mentioned there are other fall sports other than football students may choose to participate in as well. Russ wants to “ease into it, but at the same time, the door is open for a lot of possibilities.”
The board mentioned the new weight room that was recently added to Read Mountain Middle School, which was approved in the November consent agenda.
Russ also mentioned a “much improved communications system” that will benefit the entire county and the school division when asked by Tim Davidick about the recent upgrades to Colonial Elementary.
On the current Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), Russ stated that “the number one priority is school safety and that’s where a lot of the money is going.”
BCPS Director of Finance Brandon Lee gave a reading of the proposed FY24-FY28 CIP. Russ mentioned incomplete projects still on the FY23 CIP are moved on to the new plan, but the “money paying for those [projects] now (FY23) will be the same money paying for them next year (FY24).” Russ mentioned he is working with BCPS Communications Director Mike Moser to release a detailed document that will list all of the prioritized projects.
Russ then spoke about the “Return to School” plan and updating the county residents where the school division is located and the mitigation strategies regarding the COVID-19 health plan. The superintendent stated that the schools are “back to as normal as we can be” in terms of mitigation procedures regarding the return to school.
They opened up a public hearing about the return to school plan. No members of the community commented about the plan.
The next School Board meeting will take place on Thursday, Dec. 8.
The entire superintendent’s report and proposed CIP can be found in the agenda made available on the BCPS website (https://go.boarddocs.com/vsba/bcps/Board.nsf/Public). Visit bcps.live/archives to watch the November board meeting in its entirety.