Describe your background in education, Harrisonburg City Public Schools, and public education.
I attended public schools in Rockingham County, graduating from Elkton High School in 1971. I attended the current Massanutten Technical Center as an adult student at night to prepare myself for an opportunity to advance my career with Verizon phone company. My two sons graduated from HHS in 2001, 2003 then VA Tech and JMU. My sons went to a very overcrowded Spotswood Elem. School while the decision was being made to build Stone Spring Elementary School. My son’s 4th grade class was held in a mobile classroom (trailer).
Do you think Harrisonburg needs a second high school?
Give reasoning for your answer to Harrisonburg having a second high school.
Harrisonburg clearly needs additional space for students to learn and thrive. There may be other alternatives to address overcrowding for the next several years without stressing the city financially.
According to the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development report on fiscal stress of localities:
- HARRISONBURG IS THE 19TH MOST FISCALLY STRESSED LOCALITY out of 133 Virginia cities and counties.
- MEDIAN HOUSEHOLD INCOME IS THE 37TH LOWEST AT $41,636 in 2016. MEDIAN INCOME HAS RISEN ONLY 1.35% FROM 2007-2016
According to the most recent UNITED WAY “ALICE” (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) Project, over 60% of Harrisonburg is considered working poor.
Borrowing $79M to construct a new school immediately will require exceeding the city’s own Financial Management Policies for several years which could negatively impact our bond rating when going to market for any other needs.
When would you like to see a second high school open in Harrisonburg?
The current City Council voted to fund a second high school to open in 2023. What are your suggestions to alleviate overcrowding at HHS through the opening of a second high school?
The City Council is charged with funding school operations and construction, not the daily operation of the school system. After speaking with personnel at the school, I am impressed with how the school board and administration is working to make the most of a crowded and challenging situation.
Even though Bluestone Elementary is more than 50% larger than our other city elementary schools, our middle schools are near capacity and will become overcrowded during the tenure of our newly elected city council members. How will you address our city’s educational growth while still supporting the other needs of our community?
If growth projections are accurate and the city will need another new school in the next 4 years, it is absolutely necessary to have City Council, School Board and the community come together to do strategic long-term planning. At this time I see no way the city could take on additional debt in 3 or 4 years if it borrows for a high school to open in 2023. We must have options that work for everyone in our community. City leaders cannot ignore the city’s other major financial needs, ex. the eastern water line completion, need for additional public works and safety personnel to align with the growth in the city and any other needs identified and those unexpected.
How familiar are you with the work completed by the Space Study Committee created by the Harrisonburg City School Board?
I continue to study the Space Committee report, the City’s financial analysis, any other related documents and meet with community members and leaders to hear their opinions, suggestions and concerns. This is a community wide issue.
Please summarize your knowledge of the Space Study Committee and their recommendations.
The Space Committee was put together after the School Board had made public they wanted to build another high school. The committee should have been given the time and information to investigate every available option, their benefits and deficits, and their costs relative to taxes, debt and the financial health of our city. It is has become clear to me that our citizens continue to have many unanswered questions about the new high school in a community that values education and students.
Please summarize your knowledge of our group, ForHHS2.
The group believes that the only solution to overcrowding is to build a new high school right away with a campaign to gain support for their position. ForHHS2 members will support and promote candidates that favorite building a new high school sooner than the recommendation by the present council. I appreciate being given the opportunity to state my concerns.
Is there anything you would like the public to know in particular to public education within the city?
HHS has many wonderful programs for students and their families which enhance the educational opportunities but are not required for public education. I would like to see these opportunities continue for our students and their parents. After reviewing financial documents and having conversations with educators, city leaders and community members of all ages, we must explore the best way to maximize the usage of the existing facilities until a long term solution is viable and the city is able to take on additional large debt for school buildings. There are over 3000 schools in the country operating year-round schools, including Virginia. Could this be a solution for HCPS overcrowding? I think it’s one possibility that should be researched. We must work together to protect the financial health of our city, address the concerns of taxpayers, while helping our students get a quality education.
The fiscal burden of a new high school has an extremely high probability of forcing elimination of some of the exemplary programs HHS now offers. Examining alternatives and solutions can help to guarantee that these programs continue.