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Mecklenburg trustees hire architect, get first look at budget / March 21, 2018
The Mecklenburg County School Board voted Monday night to tap a Richmond architectural firm to design the county’s new high school/middle school complex, clearing another milestone in the long process of replacing the county’s four existing secondary schools.

Trustees voted unanimously to hire Ballou Justice and Upton of Richmond as the architect and design firm for the new school, despite not yet holding legal title to land for the facility. According to Lindell Palmer, who serves on the joint education committee — which is charged with evaluating and recommending the school cite — the county is waiting for an opinion by the Virginia Department of Transportation on whether the preferred location can be safely accessed by buses, students and parents.

Despite the approval of BJU as architects, school board chairman Brent Richey said after the vote that the project could come to a halt in the next 30 days if a site for the schools is not approved.

Ballou Justice and Upton describes itself as “an award winning architectural firm who has been providing exceptional design services for more than 100 years.”

Schools which they have designed or renovated include middle schools in Warren, Dinwiddie, Caroline, Fairfax and Henrico counties and in the City of Richmond, and high schools in Chesterfield, Dinwiddie, Essex and Fairfax counties and the City of Virginia Beach.

Also Monday night during their regular monthly meeting, school trustees reviewed a school budget proposal presented by Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols.

Under the budget plan, the school division is looking at about $50 million in operating expenses next year and another $50 million in debt service tied to construction of the new school complex. These expenses could change based on possible adjustments to state and county funding, with final figures uncertain until the General Assembly approves a new biennial budget. Legislators convened the session without passing a budget, and will return for a special session to resolve an impasse between the House of Delegates and State Senate.

Mecklenburg County and all other Virginia localities must have their budgets in place by July 1, the start of the new 2018-19 fiscal year.

Nichols said his budget plan requires slightly more than $18 million in county funding, a slight increase over FY2017. The balance of the operating budget, some $31.6 million, will come from state and federal funding.

The Board of Supervisors determines the share of county funding for schools.

The focus of this year’s school budget, said Nichols, is higher compensation to recruit and retain quality personnel, plus more money for alternative education programs, professional development, increased career and technical education experiences, maintenance of the elementary schools, school improvement and accreditation and the redesign of the school curriculum.

A positive note for school employees is that they will see no increase in their health insurance coverage costs for the coming year. Nichols called this good news for the staff, which last year faced premium increases that in some cases exceeded 20 percent. There will be no reduction in health coverage benefits, he added.

The school division hopes to fill several new personnel positions, among them:

Four behavioral specialists

Two in-school suspension paraprofessionals

A public information officer

Classroom positions that include a coding teacher for Bluestone Middle School, a drafting teacher shared by the two high schools, two career investigation teachers for the middle schools, a keyboarding and business teacher shared by the middle schools, a business and IT teacher, two SPED teachers, a homebased teacher and a reading and a math specialist.

Other hires that are being sought include two deans of students — one for each middle school — an athletic trainer, a diesel mechanic, a payroll supervisor in training and one fulltime secretary and one part time secretary.

The school board will host a public hearing on the budget on Monday, March 26 at 6 p.m. Nichols called for a special meeting to approve the school’s proposed budget on Wednesday, March 28.

Also, trustees approved Clarksville’s request to use two buses to transport visitors to Lakefest activities from the remote parking location on July 21. The Clarksville Lake Country Chamber of Commerce will compensate the drivers and provider insurance coverage for the buses on that day.

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