Example #2: Rachel A. Levy

Example #2

Dear Hanover County Board of Supervisors,

My name is Rachel Levy and I live in the Ashland district with my husband and three children. My youngest is a kindergartener at Henry Clay and my eldest are fourth graders at John Gandy. I have been a teacher most of my professional life, including five years with Albemarle County Public Schools near Charlottesville, Virginia. When I am not parenting or teaching, I am reading and writing about education. I am a strong supporter of public schools and of our public democratic institutions. I am writing because I am very concerned about the direction our county and our schools are headed in.

Before I begin, I want to thank you for your service and to thank those of you who have held town halls in recent weeks.We moved to Ashland in the summer of 2009 after spending two years living in Oakland, California. Prior to that we lived in Charlottesville, Virginia, and prior to that we lived in Washington, DC, where both my husband and I were born and raised. California now ranks something like 48th in the nation for spending on public education, and while the educators at my sons’ school in Oakland were amazing, the conditions were tough: class sizes were large, there was no assistant principal, no counselor, no nurse, one administrative assistant, no aides, no special education teachers, no ESL teachers, no specialists. The PTA funded art, music, PE, library, and technology. PTA dues were between $200 and $700. And the fundraising was endless.When I arrived here, I thought we were in non-partisan public education heaven. As the daughter of a school finance and budget expert who monitors a major urban public school system, I have been taught the importance of efficiency, sensible budgeting, and of putting as high a percentage of resources as possible into classrooms. I was impressed with how efficiently Hanover Public Schools were run and with the percentage of dollars going to instruction, and that my children were getting a good education. Unfortunately, each year we’ve been here since 2009, Hanover has looked increasingly like the California I thought we had left behind. I was impressed that Dr. Wilson presented the School Board with a balanced budget for FY2013-2014, but I am dismayed that she would be given such in adequate sum to work with in the first place.I don’t want bloat or waste, but at this point, we aren’t raising enough revenues to provide even the basic services and infrastructural maintenance that our county needs. Furthermore, while I happen to think that the elimination of future proffers on housing development was a mistake, an even bigger mistake was not consulting with citizens of the county when that action was taken.

Since 2009, Hanover County has cut school expenditures by 31 million dollars. As a parent, I am concerned about this, and about the next big hit our schools are about to take. Class sizes are going to continue to rise. Teacher to pupil ratios, including total pupil load for secondary school teachers, are going to continue to rise. Special and extra-curricular programs are going to be reduced or cut. Textbooks will not be current (and are not in many cases, current). Technological tools are not being adequately funded. Teacher, administrator, and support staff positions will continue to be cut. Our teachers, administrators, and other school staff will continue to have unmanageable workloads, along with relatively low salaries and inadequate resources. We will be increasingly unable to attract and retain highly qualified teachers, administrators, and staff. If our educators’ working conditions are poor then so will be our students’ learning conditions. 

At the current level of funding and the levels being proposed, the quality of education Hanover’s children receive will be negatively affected. This will have a harmful impact on our children and on our community. Eventually, there will also be financial consequences: The people who have long come to Hanover County for the schools may not be so eager to do so and property values will decrease.

I have heard some say that that Hanover County is the one of the top in spending per pupil but this is simply not true. Hanover is among the lowest in spending per pupil in the state (Source: Comparative Report – demographic and tax data June 30, 2011, provided by VA General Assembly). It is one of the highest, at nearly 75%, in the percentage of its General Budget that goes towards “Instruction” (Source: FY 2013-2014 Proposed Budget) but that doesn’t mean that Hanover County is spending enough to ensure quality education. That’s like saying I’m doing well because I spend 75% of my food budget on fruits and vegetables when my food budget is only $20 a month. I may be buying and eating the right kinds of food, but I’m still not getting enough.

“Creative” ways of raising revenues such as pay-to-play or turning to the private sector are not appropriate ways of funding public democratic institutions. Pay-to-play means the haves get to play while the have nots don’t. Institutional infrastructure is destroyed and not easily built back. Relying on the private sector to fund basic services and infrastructure means erosion of democratic control and input. Raising revenues by means of increased fees and fines is impractical and unfair. Those and pay-to-play schemes are really just taxation by other means. I have to pay anyway, why not do so in a more efficient way–to a bigger pot that gets processed by one office? Also, there are services and programs that members of my family and I do not utilize but still recognize their value. Those programs are an investment in the health of the community.

I have been proud as our community has come together to support our schools and to demand a better quality of life and better for our community and while my immediate concern lies mostly with education, I can only imagine how equally starved our public safety, social services, and other departments are. It is time for current policies on raising revenues to change before our community and our children pay the price. I value being part of a healthy, vibrant community and I’m willing to pay for it.

 
Thank you for your time and consideration. 
Yours truly,Rachel A. Levy
Ashland District

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