School Board discusses imperative need for WBHS renovations at retreat

By Debbie Adams

Members of the Roanoke County School Board held a retreat on January 15 at the school administrative offices to consider plans for 2020.

Superintendent Dr. Ken Nicely enumerated his goals for the school system for the coming year centered on the theme “2020 Vision: C-ing Clearly.” The 2020 Vision brings into focus the school division’s ongoing, comprehensive mission based on “deeper learning” that is engaging and purposeful. The “C” success skills the county school system wants all graduates to demonstrate include content knowledge, communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and citizenship.

His stated goals for the year concern alignment with the C-Change Framework, expanding implementation of the PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) program which focuses on social and emotional safety to create safer and more effective schools to all 27 schools; and establishing a new RCPS alternative education program.

Other goals are to fully develop plans for the RCPS “Opportunity Read Certificate” so that students earn tangible credentials through projects such as communication and collaboration; and creating a clearly defined middle school program– one in which all RCPS middle schools will be recognized by the Virginia School Watch program. William Byrd, Northside, Glenvar, and Hidden Valley Middle Schools have all completed the comprehensive process, leaving Cave Spring Middle to join the ranks.

A final goal is for evaluation of Board of Supervisor/School Board revenue sharing formulas across the state to identify “any needed adjustments” in the Roanoke County formula “to achieve better equity to meet school division needs.”

The majority of the retreat was spent in a free form discussion in which Chairman Don Butzer, Vice Chair Mike Wray, and members Tim Greenway, Jason Moretz, and David Linden talked about funding concerns in partnership with the Board of Supervisors and the upcoming renovations at William Byrd High School, W.E. Cundiff and Glen Cove Elementary Schools, and the Burton Center for Arts and Technology.

The group deliberated over a response to the Board of Supervisors’ decision to increase funding for the county schools from a 10-10-10 debt management system to a 12-12-12 plan.

Under the 10-10-10 formula, borrowing for county and school projects has been capped at $10 million annually. School projects are eligible for the funds in two of three years. In the third year, funding goes toward the county’s capital projects.

The new funding proposal would increase the debt issue by 20 percent to $12 million annually. The county believes the increased funding could move up school system construction projects by several years.

Board members commiserated over the lack of funding which will delay renovations at some schools built from 55 to 60 years ago until 2040 or later.

They made plans to formally convey their sentiments to the Board of Supervisors that while they appreciate an increase to the 12-12-12 formula, that degree of funding is still “woefully inadequate” to meet the needs of Roanoke County students, especially in the nine county schools in dire need of renovation.

The School Board is suggesting at least a 15-15-15 sharing formula. Butzer has asked for a funding plan to complete construction of the remaining schools in 10 years rather than the projected 20.

“A well-managed and effective system of schools is the crown jewel of its community,” Nicely said. “Schools are often a deciding factor for companies and newcomers considering relocating to a community. The economic development value of providing modern school facilities is well-recognized.

“Roanoke County ranks in the top 20 of 132 school division in size,” he noted. “The school system has made a good effort in maintaining its school facilities with the resources it has been provided. Since 2002, RCPS has built one new high school and a replacement elementary school. They have completely renovated three other high schools, one middle school, and seven elementary schools.

“Despite these efforts, nine schools constructed during the building boom in the late 1960s and early 1970s are currently in need of extensive renovation. The cost of the work that needs to be done is more than can be accomplished with existing state and local revenue streams. Realistically, with inflation and skyrocketing construction costs, some of these nine schools could be over 100 years old before they are brought up to modern standards.”

How did William Byrd High School rise to the top of the priority list of nine schools in dire need of renovations?

Board members discussed the continuing misperception that William Byrd High School has already undergone extensive renovations. That is not the fact. While parts of WBHS (cafeteria, administration, and JROTC space) were renovated in 2010, the core of the building has never been renovated since its construction in 1969.

A science classroom at WBHS. Note the outdated electrical system. (photos courtesy of Roanoke County Schools, Chuck Lionberger)
A typical classroom ceiling sight at WBHS.
Circa 1969 restroom facilities at WBHS.

In February 2019, the School Board asked the superintendent to evaluate schools in need of renovation from an instructional perspective and make recommendations to establish a new ranking of priorities.

Dr. Nicely formed a team that reviewed previous facility studies. Based on that review, the team selected a list for further evaluation, all built before 1973, which had either significant portions of the building which had never been renovated or had known accessibility issues among classrooms.

They considered variables such as size, location, configuration, and number of classrooms; HVAC, plumbing, electrical, and building controls; technology support; furniture; library/media center size; science labs; collaboration and creativity spaces; lighting; restrooms; cafeteria and gymnasium; clinics with toilets; band, choral, and drama space; and administration and conference space.

The team visited facilities, interviewed principals, and reviewed the comprehensive 2016 OWPR report. Schools were ranked after the data was analyzed and quantified.

WBHS– the largest school in RCPS in terms of enrollment and square footage– was placed at the top of the priority list. The other four county high schools had undergone or were in the process of undergoing complete renovations.

The remaining eight schools topping the priority list in order are: W.E. Cundiff and Glen Cove Elementary, BCAT, Northside Middle, Glenvar Elementary, Hidden Valley Middle, Burlington Elementary, and Penn Forest Elementary. The School Board adopted the recommendations from the superintendent and the team.

At William Byrd, science classrooms, Family and Consumer Science classrooms, and the library are not designed for current programming. Students learn in classrooms designed for 1960s instruction.

Classroom sizes at WBHS do not meet Virginia guidelines. There is no choir room. Lighting and electrical systems are inadequate. The current structure does not allow for proper traffic flow through the building. There is one elevator located at the opposite end of the building from the core classroom area. The piecemeal nature of previous construction projects at WBHS has created sightlines that make supervision challenging.

There was also discussion of the need for a replacement facility for BCAT, which serves all Roanoke County students, and making it a separate project.

The School Board reviewed templates of letters to be sent to state legislators in the General Assembly urging them to increase school funding for construction.

Talking points include a pay increase to fix the shortage of quality teachers, funding to modernize aging school facilities, and removing the support staff funding cap.

  • Even though Virginia ranks among the 15 wealthiest states, it falls in the bottom 15 in terms of average teacher pay. A 3 percent pay increase in each year of the biennium is requested.
  • The county recommends not only an increase in funding for school facilities, but that the General Assembly give counties the same ability as cities to increase meals and lodging taxes to fund school construction.
  • Some 11 years ago, the General Assembly “temporarily” placed a cap on the number of support positions reimbursed by the state, shifting a $754 million funding burden to local school divisions. The support staff cap arbitrarily limits state reimbursement for required and necessary positions such as classroom aides, custodians, administrative assistants, nurses, bus drivers, and maintenance workers. The funding for these critical positions currently falls almost completely on the backs of local school divisions. The cost of the support staff funding cap to Roanoke County alone in FY2020 will be $4.8 million.


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