STATUS UPDATE: Wythe County School Renovations

WYTHEVILLE, Va. – Over the past decade, the Wythe County Board of Supervisors and School Board have enjoyed a close working relationship aimed at the mutual understanding that the gateway to future success will only be achieved through a strong and competitive school system. Together, the two governmental agencies have worked hand-in-hand in order to formulate workable plans to ensure the county’s education facilities are second to none.

Approximately twenty years ago, the two bodies assessed the facility needs of each school and created a schedule of school renovation, beginning with the facilities that stood in the greatest need. This assessment and cost have been updated periodically.

Thanks to this cooperation, thousands of county students began the 2016-17 school year in classrooms that are both aesthetically pleasing as well as highly functional.

To date, these renovations and additions have included the Max Meadows Elementary School, Fort Chiswell Middle School, Rural Retreat Elementary School, Jackson Elementary School, Rural Retreat High School, and most recently, Rural Retreat Middle School and Sheffey Elementary School.

These renovations have been extensive and included stripping large sections of the schools down to their outer shell in order to properly meet new standards — the final result being an almost unrecognizable school facility enjoying modern wiring, telecommunications, plumbing, flooring, walls, and roof.

Next on the schedule of schools to be modernized were the three schools located within the Town of Wytheville, Spiller Elementary, Scott Memorial and George Wythe High School; however, on February 18, 2016, Dr. Jeff Perry, the new superintendent of Wythe County Public Schools, presented the Board of Supervisors with revised options regarding existing plans for the three town schools.

Acknowledging that the cost to renovate all three of the schools would total to approximately $24 million, Superintendent Perry presented two other options to the county’s board of supervisors: 1.) Construct three entirely new schools at a price tag of $81 million or 2.) Construct a new combined Scott Memorial / George Wythe facility at a price of $50 million and either renovate Spiller for $8.5 million or build a new elementary school for $25 million, totaling to either $58.5 million or $75 million — all of these plans, however, would severely increase the anticipated costs of modernizing the schools in town and severely delay work on other schools in the county awaiting their turn to be renovated.

In an effort to fully understand the general public’s perspective, the county created an online poll in March of this year. The poll detailed the new proposals and the costs associated with deviating from the original School Board and Board of Supervisors’ plan.

Only one vote per residential address was permitted in order to safeguard the poll’s authenticity and after a month’s time, 813 votes were counted. Of this number, 620 individuals had voted against deviating from the original plan (76.3%) while only 193 were in favor of building a consolidated facility (23.7%).

On Tuesday, August 9, 2016, the Wythe County Board of Supervisors held a special work session and supervisors discussed the pros and cons of each of the proposals. Supervisors did not, however, “nix” any plans or decide upon any action, as no votes are allowed by law to be taken during a work session.

Last year, serving as the primary funding agency for the county’s school system, the Wythe County Board of Supervisors funded the county’s School Board at approximately +$15.7 million annually, nearly two-times the state’s mandated rate. As the funding agency of the school system, the county government has a vested interest in providing the greatest education in the best facilities possible to local residents — while at the same time doing so in a manner that is cost effective, while maintaining a tax structure that encourages economic growth and home ownership.

Modern facilities are just a single ingredient in what is required to reach these goals — of even greater significance are the teachers tasked with guiding our county’s youth and in order to retain the very best educators in our region, the county government must remain good stewards in determining school budgeting items.

In response to the School Board’s request, the Wythe County Board of Supervisors has appointed the Chair, School Board Liaison and County Administrator to meet with School Board members and School Superintendent to discuss school construction. The invitation for the meeting has been sent to the School Superintendent.

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