Giles County school leaders propose tax increase to prevent future education cuts

School leaders request community to take survey about the proposal

GILES COUNTY, Va. – When it comes to public education, growing demands are met with shrinking budgets across the state of Virginia.

Giles County Public Schools understand that challenge more and more every school year.

Since 2009, Virginia has reduced annual funding for education to Giles County by $1.9 million. It’s a situation that Giles County School superintendent Dr. Terry Arbogast said has gotten worse in recent years.

Now, to avoid cutting programs and teacher positions, the school board is asking for the public's help.

Over the past several years, the county and school system have implemented various cost saving measures to offset the reduced funding from the state. Council members said they have consolidated janitorial and maintenance services, improved bus route efficiency, revisited all outside service contracts to capture additional savings, transitioned lighting to LED in buildings and parking lots and many other cost savings initiatives.

They are currently implementing an evaluation of current facilities use.

“We have reached a point where additional reductions will result in loss of jobs and school programs,” said Stevie Steel, school board representative for the Eastern District.

Teachers in Giles County Public Schools, rank in the bottom third compared to other local systems. Those school systems include, Montgomery County, Radford, Floyd County, Wythe County, Pulaski County, Galax, Carroll County, Grayson County, Smyth County and Bland County.

"We're running out of options,” Arbogast said. "We hear occasionally that we lose employees because they go to another division, rightfully so, because they can make more money in a community closer to them. And we can't fault them for that."

Despite cutting costs at every corner, not only have teachers gone without a pay raise in five years, Arbogast said he's worried about future cuts.

"If we don't start receiving necessary funding, we are going to have to start really looking at what programs could come to the point where maybe we aren't able to offer that program,” Arbogast said.

Earlier this year the board went to Richmond to ask legislators for more funding, not only for Giles but for the entire district. That request was not answered.

The county supplies 59 percent of its budget to education, but Steel said it's still not enough.

"Every year we were going back to our teachers, saying, 'Blame it on the folks in Richmond.' We are at a point where we can't do it anymore,” Steel said.

Now taking matters into their own hands, the board is asking the people to consider supporting a property tax increase that would go 100 percent to Giles Public Schools, giving teachers a competitive salary.

On average, Steel said the individual tax payer would pay an extra $50 to $250 a year depending on the value of property owned.

The ultimate goal to make teacher’s salaries once again competitive to neighboring districts would be to give teachers a 12 percent increase.

“That’s a hefty raise to fill, and the school isn’t able to generate revenue,” Steel said.

He said they are working to educate the public about their proposal, gain their support and present the idea to the Giles County Board of Supervisors.

“It’s a small cost to the individual, less than a typical trip to Walmart or a couple of tanks of gas,” Steel said. "Price people can understand their individual impact, our hope is that the response is, absolutely. I thought you were talking about raising my taxes $5,000. That's not what we are talking about."

Read a breakdown of proposed costs, and how much it would translate in revenue to the school system.

Steel and Arbogast said the importance of local education impacts far more than just students or parents, but the community as a whole. They said the education of youth directly impacts the county’s future workforce, tax base and businesses.

"I hear people all of the time say, "Well, I don't have a child in the school system, so why should I pay taxes. Okay, well tomorrow when you go out and enjoy services that you get here locally, by somebody who knows what they are doing, that speaks very well, that understands how to communicate with people because they came out of this school system. You should appreciate it then. So even if you don't have a child in this school system, you are going to be impacted by the quality of student we put out into the community,” Steel said.

“At the end of the day, our education is their education system for the community. We are educating the next generation. Hopefully the next generation will stay here locally and work in the local businesses and become our tax base,” Arbogast said.

The board is asking the those who live in Giles County to fill out a simple survey online for feedback about the tax increase. To take that survey, click here.

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