Residents and teachers spoke out at a public hearing Monday night on the city council's proposed FY 2013 budget, taking aim at a proposed bike trail and $3 million in funding cuts to the school board's Capital Improvement Plan.
School Board Member Kermit Dance said the $3 million is needed to provide a new site for a central office, which would free up space along Tudor Lane to build a replacement school for Baldwin Elementary, and eventually a new elementary school to accommodate a steady increase in student enrollment each year.
"We are looking at what Manassas Park has done to free up land and better manage the cost of schools," Dance said. "Cougar Elementary and Manassas Park Elementary are two buildings that connect and they share resources, share playgrounds, share libraries."
"Otherwise we have no land and Baldwin is dead in the water because we'll have no place to put it," he added. "Land is just too rare in the city."
Baldwin Elementary School was built in the 1950s, and according to Dance and teachers who spoke at Monday night's hearing, the building needs to be replaced.
Teachers have said the school's aging infrastructure negatively affects student achievement and the ability for them to teach. Dance agreed.
"The fact that the teachers are remaining and continue to work under those conditions when they can just go across the border and have much better surroundings is to their credit," he said.
Dance said he calculated that two and a quarter years of learning is taken away from a Baldwin student's time in elementary school (kindergarten through fourth grade) because they can't focus due to all the noise that occurs with the facility's utilties and when it rains.
He said the classrooms are so small, teachers also have a hard time implementing their curriculum.
"The teachers can't separate the kids into reading groups. All they can do is have the desks facing each other, they can't even sit on the floor for a story," he said.
Dance said the council is also missing an opportunity to provide a unified campus in the community by building the proposed two new elementary schools across Tudor Lane from Osbourn High School, where students serve as peer mentors to the elementary grades.
"The kids can just walk right across the street and become peer mentors for the elementary school," he said.
About half of those in attendance at the meeting were there to speak out about a proposed bike trail extension project. While there are some who would like to see the current Winter's Branch Trail extended from Wellington Road to Runaldue Street, many residents who live along the proposed extension site said the trail would make their neighborhood less safe and the money could be better spent on something else, like education.
Terre Carson-Jones, a Manassas City School teacher and a resident of Baldwin Oaks, told council members all children in Manassas deserve to have a good school.
"You need to give the schools the money they need—don't take it away," Carson-Jones said. "Give it back to them where it belongs."
The Manassas City Public Schools Five-year Capital Improvement Plan includes $3 million for a central office replacement to be paid for in the upcoming budget year with the schools' fund balance. The money, however, was not included in the City Council's Proposed FY 13 budget.
The schools are receiving an additional $5 million from the city and state over last year, bringing the total budget for school funds in FY 2013 to to $98,918,108, up from $93,903,820 in FY 2012. The state is providing $3 million of that total increase. The remaining $2 million comes from the schools fund balance and is supported by council for classroom trailers, IT upgrades, new and replacement school buses and upgrades to existing schools.