By Randi B. Hagi, assistant editor
The Harrisonburg City Public Schools district could hire additional teachers, elementary school counselors and a division-wide equity coordinator with an expected increase in state and federal funding for fiscal year 2022, according to Superintendent Michael Richards’ proposed budget he presented Tuesday.
Richards’ budget proposal, which he outlined to the school board, also includes a 5% salary increase for all staff, with an additional wage hike for custodians, who are the lowest-paid among division employees.
Richards said state funding includes about $5 million more for the division this fiscal year than last, for a total of $49.7 million. And he said federal funding should increase by $1.4 million this year – for a total of $5.9 million – thanks to pandemic relief funds.
The school’s total proposed operating budget is $92 million for fiscal year 2022.
In addition to salary increases, those additional funds will help the division add more than 38 full-time equivalent positions — many of them at the grade school level. Eight of those positions are at Keister Elementary, which is “one of our fastest growing elementary schools, and it has been over the past four years,” Chief Financial Officer Tracy Shaver said.
Also among the new positions are counselors at Keister, Smithland, Stone Spring, and Waterman elementary schools; and a division-wide equity coordinator who will report to Sal Romero, director of equity and community engagement.
Richards said the new hire would “be on the campuses every day” to provide expertise when school principals and staff have questions or concerns about equity.
The school board did not take action on the budget on Tuesday.
Debate over inclusivity statement revisions
The board also grappled with updates to the division’s inclusivity statement, which was written in 2016.
“A lot of the thinking about social justice changes over time. We get more enlightened, if you will, more aware,” Richards said.
A subcommittee of the division’s equity advisory council worked on updating the statement “to make sure that whenever somebody saw that document, they saw themselves in it,” said Spotswood Elementary Principal Deb Cook.
The original statement prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, political affiliation, marital status or disability. The proposed changes add more than two dozen protected classes, including sexual orientation, citizenship status, national origin and mental health status.
Kristen Loflin, the school board’s chairwoman, suggested the committee add “body size and shape” as a protected class because “that’s something that we see stigma and shame attached to very frequently.” Loflin is a licensed professional counselor, and among her specialties are clients with eating disorders.
The majority of the board’s discussion focused on a coda to the statement titled “acknowledgement of institutional racism.” It includes the sentence: “We commit, as individuals and as a school organization, to actively engage in research and teaching practices that are anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-discriminatory of LGBTQ+ people.”
“I understand that we want to include other individuals who have been marginalized and disenfranchised,” School Board Member Obie Hill said.
But “when I think about institutional racism, that term actually originates back in the 1960s,” Hill said. And it was coined by Kwame Ture, née Stokely Carmichael, to specifically “shine light on Black individuals like myself who were prevented from progressing, owning homes .. drinking from the same water fountains, sitting at the front of the bus, et cetera.”
Cook said the committee had decided to write the statement to recognize the intersection of marginalized identities, such those who experience oppression because they are both Black and LGBTQ+.
Romero said the committee would review the statement and bring it back to the board “because we do recognize Mr. Hill’s concern with the language.”
Journalism is changing, and that’s why The Citizen is here. We’re independent. We’re local. We pay our contributors, and the money you give goes directly to the reporting. No overhead. No printing costs. Just facts, stories and context. We’re also a proud member of the Virginia Press Association. Thanks for your support.