Bedford Co. Supervisors Support Construction of New Middle School

Bedford Co., VA - Supervisors in Bedford County said Monday they'll support the building of a new middle school, not a new high school in the Liberty attendance zone.

No formal vote was taken on the middle school during the budget work session.

Chairman John Sharp said the board must stick to the reversion agreement between Bedford County, the Town of Bedford, and the Commonwealth of Virginia. In the reversion agreement, Bedford County stated its intent to "construct a new middle school facility within the Liberty High School attendance zone".

"The school board advised the county years ago that they were not interested in purchasing the existing Bedford Middle School, that we should instead build a middle school," said Sharp. "That is how that became part of the reversion agreement. Once that became part of the reversion agreement, we can't go back on it."

Some parents had asked the school board and supervisors to build a new high school, and convert the existing high school into a middle school. The school board had not asked the Board of Supervisors to consider a new high school, according to Sharp.

The Board dedicated $2.53 million dollars next fiscal year to the middle school project. Of that figure, $530,000 will come from the recently approved tax rate increase, $1 million will be taken from the school system's operating budget, and $1 million was leftover from the Jefferson Forest High School renovation project. The new middle school is expected to cost $30-40 million, and should be built in the next four years, according to County Administrator Mark Reeter.

Reeter said the board has kept school funding level. Last year the board budgeted $38 million for schools, with $1 million set aside for capital improvements. School board chairman Gary Hostutler said that $1 million was later moved into the operating budget, to pay for maintenance projects.

The school board had asked the county for $42.9 million for the operating budget this coming year, due to the rising insurance costs and contributions to the Virginia Retirement System. The amount allocated by the Board of Supervisors for the operating budget is $4.9 million less than that request. Hostutler said the funding difference means the school board will have to consider a reduction in the number of school system employees, which could affect class sizes.

The school system received $6 million last year from the state under the reversion agreement. The school board used that money to balance the operating budget. Hostutler said that money was used to offset previous cuts at the county level, to cover the first pay raise in five years, to buy school buses, and to contribute more to the Virginia Retirement System. Hostutler said there was no stipulation saying that $6 million must be put toward the cost of a new middle school.