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By Mark Dorroh
Brianne Armbrust of Jobs With Justice led the chant, “They say get out, we say speak out!” for about 40 educators, parents, and students at a rally in front of Chesterfield County’s public safety building the afternoon of Wednesday, March 10.
The rally was called by Perrymont Middle School math teacher Pat Campbell. Perrymont is on the chopping block in the draft school board budget. It is the Chesterfield County facility that serves students with no identifiable learning disabilities who have, nonetheless, fallen behind in core skills proficiency.
Campbell says Perrymont helps reduce the dropout rate among its approximately 90 students through a few common-sense approaches; student-teacher ratios are cut in half, students are required to wear uniforms and classes are segregated by gender. The per-pupil cost is $11,000 as opposed to $9,000 at the students’ home schools, and there are additional transportation costs; Perrymont functions as a magnate school, drawing students from the entire county.
But the results are sometimes, Campbell believes, well worth the price. She used as an example one student whose performance has been particularly impressive. “She came to me from fifth grade,” said Campbell, “she turned 13 years old the summer she came to Perrymont Middle, she took 6th, 7th and 8th grade math, passed the 8the grade math SOL, attended 8th grade summer school for reading and language arts and got a little bit of a boost with that; in one year this girl went right back into high school. Right now, she’s the president of the National Honor Society. So we have success after success after success.”
Those successes may not be enough to keep Perrymont open after this school year. The school board submits its budget to the board of supervisors in April, and school board members know that with falling real estate values and tax revenues, plus slashes in state funding, supervisors will regard school expenditures, the biggest single item in the county’s budget, with an eye to savings.
Campbell says she recognizes the need for belt-tightening, but adds that when her personal budget needs fixing, she’ll cancel her cable TV subscription before she turns off the water and shuts off the lights. And Arthur Almore, Education chair for the Chesterfield County NAACP, said there are many better places to look for savings.
“Eliminate the million dollar annual expenditure on the Math and Science Innovation Center in Richmond,” suggested Almore, “which is not necessary or essential to Chesterfield County students receiving a quality education.
"Eliminate the 10 Activity Director positions at each of the county’s 10 high schools,
which would produce $500,000 in savings. [These] positions are not funded … through the Standards of Quality. Existing staff can easily perform these tasks.
“Eliminate the annual $100,000 School Division and Board of Supervisors’ expenditure on the Richmond Symphony to perform in Chesterfield schools. This expenditure cannot be justified during this economic crisis.
“ Eliminate the $150,000 Executive Assistant to the Superintendent position, the $70,000 Assistant Director of Community Relations position, and the $50,000 Assistant Board Clerk position, for an additional savings of a quarter of a million dollars.
“Eliminate the $10,500 Board of Supervisors’ expenditure on high school proms. Students should be required to fundraise for their social activities and be responsible for their safe conduct.”
Several Perrymont students spoke at the rally. Among the most articulate was Raven Carter.
“When I arrived at Perrymont, my first year was my last,” Carter told the crowd. “The small environment, and working one-on-one with the teachers helped me out a lot. I was also having problems in math, and working one-on-one with my former 5th and 7th grade math teacher, Ms. Campbell, has helped me out, and I want to thank her for that.”
Following the rally, participants attended a meeting of the board of supervisors to plead their case. And as Campbell, Armbrust and Almore reminded them, the closure of Perrymont is far from a done deal. If the public takes up Perrymont’s cause and convinces enough board members, the school could be around, doing its good work, for years to come.