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Schools see increased enrollment

Charles Berkley, Jr.

Lunenburg County Public Schools has seen an uptick in enrollment, as well as in the number of special needs students, school officials recently told the members of the county’s board of supervisors.

The system has 1,524 students, and while other systems have seen enrollment decrease in the last couple of years, “we have seen ours increase,” Superintendent Charles M. Berkley Jr. said.

That increased enrollment, however, also includes an increase in the number of special education students. Consequently, the increased enrollment soaked up extra funding “to provide the needed services for them and the increase of hiring staff for our enrollment increases,” he said.

Berkley and Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations James Abernathy shared the information during the superintendent’s report at the Lunenburg County Board of Supervisors organizational meeting Thursday, Jan. 9.

Abernathy said the number of special education students increased from 187 in the last academic year to 234 as of Dec. 1.

The additional 47 students also include an increase in the number of autism students from 13 to 22 and emotionally disturbed students from 11 to 14, he said. There are also two students with traumatic brain injuries, Abernathy said.

Such increases translate to not just more students needing services, but expenses related to various services, he said.

While last year the system transported six students to a program in Chase City, the system now has to has to use four cars to transport 14 students – prompting a $15,000 increase in fuel cost, Abernathy said.

And we haven’t made it to the halfway point, so that will probably be double,” he said.

In addition, the system is also paying $11,000 more for special needs services from an outside agency, Abernathy said.

Abernathy said the comments from school officials were so that the supervisors could “see the effect the increase in special needs had on our budget this year.”

Meanwhile, Berkley said his priority has been maintaining a cooperative and collaborative relationship with the supervisors, and plans for the budget for the next fiscal year will focus on the goals of the strategic plan of promoting student success, a caring culture, a premiere workforce, and a compensated staff both in salary and benefits.

Those priorities include, he noted: instructional initiatives to increase accountability and improve student achievement; better salaries and benefits and professional development to enhance recruitment and retention of staff; better facility maintenance and replacement of aging system, as well as safety and environmental enhancement; and professional development.

“We have made sizable gains in the past few years and the changes and improvements are now showing us remarkable results but there is still a lot of hard work ahead of us and we will continue to move forward so that each student will reach his or her highest level of achievement and potential in the 21st century workforce,” Berkley said. “We are and will continue to enable our students to become effective, productive, and contributing citizens in our … global society.”