Sunday, February 15, 2009

Commentary from Roanoke Times

The following is Commentary that appeared in today's Roanoke Times:

Roanoke City Public Schools are a reflection on our city and a fair measure of our priorities. I consider the perceived lack of quality in our schools to be one of the greatest hindrances to economic development in the city. I use the word "perceived" because I am convinced that we have good schools and teachers and they are getting better. Progress is being made to improve the quality of Roanoke's schools (Community College Access Program, New Honors Program in middle schools, and many others), but we can't ignore that our schools are ranked near the bottom among our peers in the commonwealth. To make matters worse, this year we face an unprecedented financial shortfall that could seriously impact our progress in the school system.

As elected officials, government administrators, business leaders and community residents, our priorities for the city should include creating an environment that encourages entrepreneurship and produces good jobs. Obtaining these goals requires a high-quality education system. While we can provide the very best services to our adult residents, enjoy wonderful capital amenities and a high quality of recreational life, there will always be a ceiling on how strong we can be as a community if we find it acceptable to have barely 51 percent of our students graduate from high school on time. This will be what we are known for and will have a direct and negative financial impact on the city for generations to come.

This is going to be a tough year financially for everyone and, with an expected $15 million budget shortfall, our schools will not be exempt. As with any enterprise that runs on a budget, the Roanoke school board and city council have tough decisions to make. These decisions pale in comparison, however, to the thought of having to halt, and maybe reverse, the progress we have made in improving the quality of our city schools. The troubled economy and loss of 10 percent of the resources that go to our schools could result in school closures and classroom size expansion, which means children may find themselves getting less attention and instruction than needed. I worry about the devastating effect this may have on our most vulnerable students and their families.

During times of shrinking budgets, we are forced to take a hard look at our expenditures. A byproduct of this examination is that we will have an opportunity to identify areas of unnecessary spending, such as programs that are underused or outdated, and generally make government function more efficiently for citizens. And certainly, like other areas of government, our schools will and must find some areas to reduce expenses. But a $15 million budget shortfall cannot be recovered by cuts to superfluous spending; rather, this shortage will require tremendous gouges to our system -- cuts that are far deeper than our students should have to endure.

A top-quality education is the one, common way for people to improve their lives, positively change their circumstances and continue to push forward the limits of innovation and accomplishment. With the many challenges we face throughout our community, this is the gift we can give to Roanoke's children, all of whom deserve a chance and all of whom need an education for the success of their individual and our collective futures.

Unfortunately, perception and politics are a part of the reality we face. But the future of our schools, the quality of education afforded our children and our priorities must transcend perception and politics. These are our schools. Their success will determine the long-term economic future of our city, which includes the jobs that we have for our residents. These issues affect children from all socio-economic households, regardless of whether these effects are immediate or arise in the future. If we are not willing to stand up for our schools, then it is my belief that we are misguided in where our priorities should be.

This is about leadership and whether Roanoke City Council is willing to do whatever necessary to support the city schools and the tough decisions they face. We should be ready to roll up our sleeves, get down in the trenches and work alongside the school board to try to figure out a way, as hard and painful as it will be, to protect our schools as much as possible. It is not any student's fault that we are in troubled economic times and financial hardship. It is not their fault that state revenues are down. It would sadden me deeply if we are not willing to try our best to make the coming school years as stable and smooth as possible.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Community Input Budget Meetings

Many thanks to City staff for their hard work in scheduling two community input budget meetings to be held at the beginning of March. These meetings will offer residents the chance to learn how the budget process works, where scarce resources may or may not be allocated and other information that contributes to the very tough decisions that will have to be made during the current budgetary crisis.

The second purpose of these two community meetings, and the main reason I think these meetings are so important, is that while each department within city government is being asked to label programs high priority, medium priority and low priority, taxpaying citizens ought to have the opportunity to tell City staff their priorities in this tough fiscal time. We need to make sure that we acknowledge that sometimes staff might consider something low priority while citizens consider that very same thing a high priority. Open communication and a transparent process are vital .

The two community meetings will be held on:

Tuesday, March 3
Virginia Western Community College

Thursday, March 12
Roanoke Civic Center

I strongly encourage all those interested in providing input and understanding budgetary requirements, and those leaders throughout our neighborhoods, to come to one or both of the community meetings.

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Who should City Council Appoint?

City Council must appoint someone to fill out the remainder of the term for the seat being vacated by Alvin Nash. I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions... any feedback, positive or negative, is welcome and appreciated.

Who should serve until July 2010??

Monday, February 9, 2009

Resignation of Alvin Nash

As has been widely reported, Alvin Nash has announced his resignation from Roanoke City Council. In my mind, Mr. Nash made the right decision for himself and for the City. We face an unprecedented fiscal crisis in Roanoke (as at every level of government) and need to have all members focused on the budget, the impact it will have on our schools and City services, and fully prepared for the difficult decisions ahead.

Fifteen years ago, Mr. Nash founded Blue Ridge Housing Development Corporation, and it holds a special place in his heart. As Blue Ridge struggles, Mr. Nash made the decision to return to his employment there and to work to try to save the troubled organization. Additionally, there has been lots of attention focused on the HUD repayment matter, and it had become a distraction to Alvin and his ability to focus on City Council decisions.

I wish Alvin the very best in his return to Blue Ridge and respect his decision.