School Board member Omarh Rajah’s recent remarks, including his assertion that the Board of Supervisors is “anti-youth,” drew a range of reactions from the supervisors this week.
During a public hearing on the school system’s proposed budget at the School Board’s Feb. 9 meeting, Rajah, who represents the Matoaca district, said everyone was putting the blame for the budget situation “on us.” In response to a speaker who said the county had asked for and not received a line-item budget from the school system, Rajah said school officials do go over a line-item spending plan with the supervisors.
“Don’t let them put the spin job on you,” he said. By law, the School Board has to “present everything” to the supervisors, he said, and if the supervisors say the School Board hasn’t shared all the budget documentation, “they are lying to you.”
He said he was “kind of getting a little bit ticked off” that residents were being given incorrect information.
“I’ve really got bigger issues to deal with than to lie to you all on public television,” he said.
He encouraged the audience ask the Board of Supervisors to attract more businesses, and therefore a larger commercial tax base, to the county and give the school system its savings back. He also suggested that the audience ask the supervisors what values they have for the county’s education system.
“I don’t believe the Board of Supervisors are anti-education,” he said. “I believe they’re anti-youth.”
Before closing the hearing, Chairman David Wyman said the budget process was “difficult” and everyone had opinions on “how these cuts should go.” The School Board and supervisors have “stepped up the dialog between the two organizations” in recent months, he said.
“We are not all in alignment,” he said, but another three months of work on the budget remain. “We are not done by a long shot, folks, and we appreciate all your input.”
At the Board of Supervisors’ Feb. 10 meeting, Heather Hart, a member of Citizens United for Responsible Government, said the group was tired of hearing one thing from the
School Board and another from the supervisors. Hearing Rajah’s “rant” at the School Board’s meeting the night before was “hurtful to the trust issue” that already exists, she said.
On Monday, Supervisors Vice Chairman Jim Holland said the supervisors “appreciate everyone’s passion for this subject,” as they are passionate, as well.
“We are working very hard with the School Board at this point,” said Holland, who is a member of the county’s budget and audit committee. “We all are very passionate about our youth, our schools. … We all are passionate about doing the best we can to serve everyone in the county well.
“I certainly respect and like Mr. Rajah, and thank him for his passion.”
In a Monday e-mail, Matoaca District Supervisor Marleen Durfee said “these are very challenging times for both the county and the school system.”
“However, it is imperative that we focus on the task in front of us and, as leaders, separate our identity from our ideas,” she said. “The reality is that we are faced with the biggest cuts coming from the state and we will make tough decisions. We must concentrate on doing the best job under the circumstances and plan for upcoming years.”
Also via e-mail Monday, Bermuda District Supervisor Dorothy Jaeckle said she felt county citizens elected representatives on both boards to find solutions to these complicated budget issues, and “I don’t think calling people liars and anti-youth moves us any closer to those solutions.”
“Judging by some of the comments Mr. Rajah has made at the last couple of School Board liaison meetings, I don’t think he has a full understanding of the budget process,” she said. “I would encourage Mr. Rajah to engage seriously by becoming expert in the budget process, understanding the fiscal pressures across all the departments of the county and state, and rolling up his sleeves with us to help find a comprehensive solution.
“The fact is that our financial situation will not allow us to approach the crafting of the budget as we have in the past. … We have to seriously consider what core services we as a county require and what services, however well-intentioned they are, we will have to learn to live without, just as families do when they hit hard times, as many in our area have.”
In a Sunday e-mail, Supervisors Chairman Dan Gecker declined to comment, saying that doing so would serve no useful purpose.