New high school opening might be delayed now

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FLUVANNA, Va. (WTVR) Students grow anxious as construction crews finish up work on Fluvanna County’s newest gem, an $82 million dollar high school.

“As a matter of fact, on Friday, we’re supposed to tour the new school,” said rising senior Melanie Thomas.

But hundreds of students are now facing the possibility that the new school won’t be opening anytime soon.

Last Wednesday, the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors voted to set the tax rate at 59.81 cents per $100, instead of 68 cents, which school leaders had expected.

The vote altered the county’s budget and expectations for the school board.  Now they scramble to find $1.4 million to cut from this year’s operating budget of $34.8 million.

“We don’t have that kind of money hidden anywhere,” argued Fluvanna school superintendent Gena Keller.

Keller believes the least costly solution would be to delay opening the new high school, which would save $900,000 dollars in moving costs associated with transitioning students.

The school board is also considering an option to close and consolidate up to three schools.

Keller believes cutting certain school programs, as suggested, is the worst solution to their deficit problems.

The board is considering some proposals, including cutting middle school and junior varsity sports, pre-K and extended day educational programs.

“Athletic activities, pre-K, our alternative education program… touches a lot of children’s lives, it touches a lot of staff lives,” Keller said.

Fluvanna County Board of Supervisor’s Chairman Shaun Kenney believes the school board is trying to make political waves by threatening to postpone the school’s opening.

“I’m more than happy to pay whatever tax rate is necessary to fund a great education system where each and every dollar is focused on the classroom,” Kenney said.  “We don’t have that in Fluvanna County.”

Kenney said financial experts, including auditors, have recommended that the school board make cuts by closing some administration buildings, some vehicles from its fleet and certain retirement programs.

“When you’re seeing retirees that are paid more for part-time work than current teachers that are being paid less for full-time work, when you have buildings which our consultants have said close and save so many dollars, those are the kinds of things the board of supervisors needs to see,” Kenney said.

While the school board plans to ask the board of supervisors to reconsider the budget, Kenny said it’s a done deal.

Some parents, including Lily Thomas, believe the financial situation could have been avoided if the county had not made the decision to build the new high school during such tough economic times.

“To me, the county is just not ready for it.”  Thomas adds, “It’s not where you learn, it’s that you’re learning.”