For almost a week, Chesterfield County School Board member, and attorney, Carrie Coyner, has been blasted in the local daily newspaper about representing developers at the Board of Supervisors meetings on cases in Bermuda and Dale districts. Ms. Coyner often asks that the school cash proffer (promise) be reduced or eliminated.
No one argues, and she gets many kudos from her District, that she does a terrific job of helping her constituents. The Village News interviewed Coyner to get her side of the story and why she consistently wants to wave at least a percentage of cash proffers for developers. We also spoke with Larry Murphy, who volunteers in schools two days a week and has a different opinion of the state of schools today.
“If you look at the cases I have taken, they have been in what I consider to be in areas where we want people to live. And we want them to live there because we have the infrastructure in place. We want them to live there because we want to revitalize our older communities. Right now, if you look at the way our proffer system works, it costs you exactly the same thing to choose to live in the Chester Village as to move as far out west as you can go where there is nothing [water, sewer, etc.],” Coyner said.
“I work in one of the schools twice a week,” said Chester resident, Larry Murphy. “There are bigger classrooms and everybody’s always talking about how great Chesterfield County Schools are, but they’re going to become a paper tiger if we keep going the way we’re going. Teachers are over-worked, over-burdened and these Tea Party types are still talking about cutting.”
Both Mr. Murphy and Coyner want what’s best for students, schools and teacher’s salaries. But the process is where they differ.
“When you look at our end of the community and what Bermuda District looks like and you see what other communities look like, it makes a big difference,” Coyner said. “If you look at the cases I have taken they have been in what I consider to be areas where we want people to live. And, we want them to live there because we have the structure in place. We want them to live there because we want to revitalize our older communities, and right now, if you look at the way our proffer system works, it costs you exactly the same thing to choose to live in Chester as to move as far out west as you can go, where there is nothing.”
Because of the socioeconomic aspects of each side of the county some get more than others including teachers who have moved west from here.
“I think because of the high quality teachers we have in the system, we are still getting results, but they’re at the point of breaking when you have 30 students in class. Our quality of education is dropping. And I think that is one thing Ms. Coyner doesn’t understand. She has been in private schools part of her life with possibly 10 - 12 students to a classroom,” Murphy said.
Coyner believes in incentives. Reduce or eliminate cash proffers and you will get builders coming to this end of the county to build middle income housing, the type typically purchased by teachers, fire fighters and policemen.
“When you look at the Pike kids [at Chimney Corner] a teacher called me and said ‘we have a child sleeping on a dirt floor and there are bugs everywhere.’ So I called Dorothy [Jaeckle] and said you’ve got to get social services and the police and everyone else involved in this. Within six months we had everyone in good housing, everyone got the healthcare they needed and it was bulldozed and gone. No one should live like that – no one.”
“How many people do you think have seen Chimney Corner in this county? It’s easy to say, if you’re from Woodlake that cash proffers are good,” Coyner said “If I had a case in Woodlake, I would want everyone to pay cash proffers, too,” Coyner said.
“People elected me with my own personal philosophy because I believe Bermuda deserves better. I don’t believe in status quo, a system that has been in place since the 80s. It obviously hasn’t worked. We’ve kept building further and further out there; I disagree with it,”
“I believe it whole heartedly, I believe it to my core. I just don’t think [cash proffers] is good policy for our lower socioeconomic areas,” Coyner said.
During the most recent election Coyner took a right handed look at how schools are governed. Proffers didn’t come up in the election.
“I believe they have backed themselves in a corner. Maybe that’s why they put Jim Holland in as Chairperson because they can’t be a good Republican and raise taxes (School Board members are required to be non political),” Murphy said. “We’ll put Jim up there since we’ve worked ourselves into a corner. They have not been very strategic the way they have been and we’re going to pay the cost for it, And we see it now with the stagnation of teacher’s salaries, we see it in the classroom, we see it now in infrastructure, the condition of some of these schools is deplorable. And, nobody is speaking up. But the Republican Party is speaking up and guiding its people to tighten up. We don’t live in a [closed] society. We live in a society of the people.”
Coyner said she feels like she is “called to get up and say, what else can I do today to make our community better? Every time I drive down the road I think, what else can I do? What bothered me the most about this week [with the articles] was it doesn’t reflect on what I do every single day. They don’t care, it doesn’t sell headlines and it doesn’t get people to click and complain. It does get to you. I truly believe that I am fighting everyday to do what I believe is the right thing to do for the community that I serve.”
“If I had a choice to decide where to live, and I could live anywhere, we could afford to send our kids to private school, we could afford to send them to Midlothian and go to Betty Weaver. We chose to come back here because I’m passionate about my home, and my kids go to an awesome Title One School and I’m proud of it.
But it breaks my heart when you see what he [Richmond Times Dispatch reporter] is portraying of what we are here in Bermuda.
You may not agree with my philosophy, but you won’t change it. I only take cases that I believe that are good for our community; to make it a better place.”