Amherst County High School. File photo. 

In addressing the upcoming 2021 fiscal year budget and future fiscal plans, Amherst County Superintendent Rob Arnold said he is seeking a change in practice regarding the division’s capital improvement plan for spending.

The current model is using the capital improvement plan and leftover monies for maintenance needs throughout the school system, Arnold said, noting when he started his position last year the CIP had a decade of deferred maintenance projects. Moving forward he plans to set aside money in the schools’ operational budget for maintenance work and see to develop a “true” CIP. He pointed to the age of the division’s buildings with all but two, Madison Heights Elementary and the Amherst Education Center, exceeding 40 years.

Arnold addressed the need for a facilities needs study during the Amherst County School Board’s Sept. 26 retreat at Sweet Briar College. Assistant Superintendent William Wells said administrators need an extensive assessment of the structural integrity of its aging facilities with experts’ input.

“The community has to pay for it one way or the other,” Arnold said of addressing the facilities’ long-term needs.

One project in particular school board members have expressed support for is a major overhaul of the high school’s auditorium, a project estimated at $2.3 million, according to a master working document for the CIP. Board chairman Mike Henderson said a tribute service in early August in memory of Lucas Dowell, a slain Virginia state police officer with ties to Amherst, drew state dignitaries and law enforcement and the auditorium experience can use much improving. The high school needs a better space, Henderson said.

“That certainly could be at the front of the plan,” Arnold said of overhauling the auditorium.

Also during the board’s retreat session, school officials discussed various aspects of a recently unveiled draft comprehensive plan, a document aimed to serve as a roadmap for the division through 2024. The plan highlights objectives, strategies and action steps in areas of equity, community engagement, human resources, operations, student support and student outcomes.

Arnold spoke on improving communication and making schools more welcoming to the community. Chairman Mike Henderson suggested taking a bus and using it for community events to showcase activities and clubs within the school system, such as the high school’s Amherst Lancers Tech Club.

School officials discussed the need to reduce turnover, focus on professional development and seek ways to expand its recruitment of new employees.

Wells spoke on technology needs and improvements, forming a plan to replace the bus fleet more frequently and not playing “catch up” in acquiring new vehicles, among other topics.

Arnold said educators have to make the plan come to life. “Each one of us is going to be responsible for the work,” he said. “I want people to stay engaged with this process.”

Arnold will conduct “state of the division” addresses in future years that focus on carrying out the plan’s goals. The board will hold a public hearing on the plan during its Oct. 10 meeting at Temperance Elementary School.

Henderson said the document is “well thought out” and he is highly optimistic it will pay great dividends for the school system and community.

“This is an absolutely outstanding product,” Henderson said.

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Reach Justin Faulconer at (434) 385-5551.

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