WCPS keeps eyes peeled on two legislative committees

Stephen Igo • Oct 10, 2018 at 5:15 PM

WISE — Wise County Public Schools officials are keeping both eyes, one optimistic and the other wary, peeled on the continuing work of two state legislative committees in Richmond.

WCPS Superintendent Greg Mullins on Tuesday informed the county School Board of the work of the separate Virginia General Assembly panels geared toward improvements for public education.

The House Select Committee on School Safety, Mullins reported, has developed 57 recommendations for future consideration. While not all are likely to be handed down to Virginia’s public school divisions, Mullins said some probably will be.

Citing a few “of note,” Mullins said the committee will consider recommendations to lift the funding cap on support staff that has been in place since 2008; develop a state chat line where the mental health and well-being of individual students may be brought to the attention of those who can help; stipulate one counselor for every 250 students; promote “restorative justice” rather than suspensions and other disciplinary measures; and enable retired law enforcement officers to serve as school resource officers (SROs) with no impact on their retirement benefits.

Mullins said the committee meets again next month and “the one question we, as superintendents, have, when these recommendations are made, we need to know the price tags and will they come to us as unfunded mandates?”

Mullins said local school administrators are “hopeful to see some of these changes, but we need the funding to put them in place.”

Mullins also reported on the developing work of the Senate Local Government Subcommittee on School Facility Modernization. Mullins said the subcommittee has determined there is probably $3 billion to $4 billion of school facility needs across Virginia, and a revenue stream to help address those needs might be tapping into uncollected Internet sales taxes.

Wise County has made a number of facility improvements of its own in recent years, particularly involving building two new high schools and seriously renovating a third. Mullins said he has already suggested to Southwest Virginia legislators to see if provisions can be included in any forthcoming school facilities modernization package for school divisions to choose to use their shares to pay down past facility improvement debts.

That would enable WCPS to free up other funds to address other needs, Mullins said, seeing how the county embarked on a facilities modernization program of its own already.