School board hears budget priorities


Patriot Publishing


The Pulaski County Education Association made its annual presentation on budget priorities during Tuesday’s public hearing on the 2024-25 school budget.

The budget hearing led off the monthly school board meeting, which included a variety of presentations, information and action items – including finalizing plans for testing days for students and early release for students due to an expected solar eclipse.

PCEA President Candy Castelluccio said she feels optimistic about the proposed budgets in Richmond, where a large portion of Pulaski County’s school funding comes from.

Castelluccio spoke on three budget priorities established by the PCEA – teacher and staff raises, insurance costs and the need for an additional art and music teacher at the elementary level.

“We all know that having highly qualified experienced teachers is a critical component of student success,” Castelluccio stated. “In the recent past, the school system and former school board did a great job of working to ensure raises were given each year. This has helped our employees offset the effects of historic inflation.”

On insurance costs, Castelluccio said, “It is amazing and rare that our county has held insurance premiums steady or actually lower in the past seven years. Keeping insurance premiums low for our employees means that our loved ones have access to the insurance care they need.”

As for the need for an additional art and music teacher at the elementary level, Castelluccio said, “there are numerous studies that show students have higher reading levels and better test scores when they have frequent access to the fine arts.”

She continued that the additional teachers will also help ensure elementary teachers get the planning time they need to do their job more effectively.

“These priorities are important to the members of the local education association.  We appreciate the work this board, the Board of Supervisors and the county administrator will do to ensure that our students and staff have access to the best resources we can offer,” she added.

Michael Reis, a Pulaski resident and member of Pulaski Town Council, addressed the school board on what he called, “future priorities.”

“Sometime during this year, the high school will be 50 years old,” Reis stated. “I’m very heartened to see that we have continued the work of doing things like replacing doors and roofs. That’s very important and much appreciated.”

But most importantly, Reis continued, is thinking about the high school for the next 50 years.

“What are we going to look like in the next 50 years when that high school is 100 years old,” he asked.

“What I want to encourage you to do between now and then is to think about the legacy that you all want to leave when it comes to the high school. Think about what you as a board can do today that will resonate throughout the next two, three, four or five decades,” Reis said.

He continued that, as of right now, school debt has declined by $1 million since 2017 – excluding of course the debt from the construction of the new middle school.

Reis asked how that money will be spent in the next several years to ensure that high school facilities remain state of the art as they were in 1974 when PCHS was built.

Reis asked the board to think about what needs to be done to improve the high school over the next 50 years to ensure that it continues to be a place “where the people we want to see move to the county view it as an investment and not a problem.”

Testing Days

At the request of School Superintendent Dr. Rob Graham, the school board approved several days in May in which only students being tested should report to school.

Those days include Thursday, May 9 and Thursday, May 16 for elementary testing; and Tuesday, May 21, Wednesday, May 22 and Thursday, May 23 for secondary testing.

Solar Eclipse

According to Graham, on Monday, April 8 a total solar eclipse will cross North America – passing over Mexico, the U.S. and Canada. That just so happens to be the same day schools in Pulaski County re-open after Spring Break.

Graham said several meetings have been held loally to consider the possibility of April 8 being a “beautiful day.”

“The time-line here is for the eclipse to happen right as we’re getting out of school and buses will be on the roads, and it will be difficult to see,” Graham said, adding that the schools can’t guarantee that students won’t be looking at the eclipse as they go home.

He said he had discussed the situation with other school superintendents in the region and about half are considering early release for students that day.

Some of the school districts, he noted, are even considering buying solar eclipse glasses for students.

“That would be about $6,000 for us for basically about 10 minutes use. I’m not sure that would be the smartest use of our money,” Graham said.

“But I do worry about our students and those who are taking buses home during this period of time,” he said.

Acknowledging it could be cloudy that day or raining even, Graham said it is his recommendation that schools close early that day.

The board approved a three-hour early release.

According to internet research, one of the biggest risks associated with staring at the sun during a solar eclipse is retinopathy, which can occur when solar radiation damages the retinas of the eyes.

Many people stricken with solar retinopathy will recover in three to six months, but permanent damage can occur.

Only those with eclipse glasses or solar viewers can look safely at the eclipse, and experts say sunglasses don’t qualify.

A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the Earth and the sun, completely blocking the sun’s face.  Astronomers say this is the last such event until August 2044.