By Callie Hietala
Ray Reynolds said he would work to effect big changes if he is successful in his bid for the Collinsville District seat on the Henry County School Board.
Elizabeth Durden also is seeking the seat in November.
If elected, Reynolds said he would advocate for 2-year term limits for school board members. He believes the same limits should be imposed on board of supervisor members.
Reynolds said he would work to increase funding for schools, improve reading scores, advocate for more public transparency, secure better pay for teachers and staff, increase school security, and improve insurance for employees.
Reynolds said many in the community believe he is running for a seat on the Board of Supervisors rather than the school board because he has often criticized recent actions by the supervisors.
“The reason I am so vocal toward the supervisors is because whatever they do with their budget affects the school board budget,” Reynolds said. “If they build a $176,000 picnic shelter, that money could have been used in the school budget to build the shelters at Bassett and Magna Vista for the students to go out and have class, and it would have been better morale for everybody. The schools need more support.”
If elected, Reynolds pledged to work with the supervisors to increase the amount of local funds to the school division. He said the county currently ranks 131st out of 132 school districts in per-pupil funding, spending $1,734.02 per student each fiscal year.
“We only get 4 cents on the dollar more per student than the state mandates,” he said. In 2008, the school system was receiving $1,994.56 per student and in 2012 the total was $2,213.58. He said he believes the decreased funding from the county is due, in part, to the new jail and the investment made in the Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre.
Funding, Reynolds said, is the key to a successful school system.
“If you lack funds, that means you’re lacking in education,” and are without money to hire more teachers, students get less one-on-one instruction, he said.
He also said that county officials took $1,227,853 from local funds that are typically used to hire more teachers, increase teacher salaries, and hire school counselors. Reynolds said he would advocate for those funds to be returned to the school division.
The county’s biggest challenge, Reynolds said, is halting Martinsville’s reversion.
“It’s going to destroy our current tax base,” he said, and added that will negatively affect the school division’s budget as well as the overall morale of the community.
“Since the county has been forced to do this,” Reynolds said, “I think there would be a lot of animosity between county and city residents.”
He believes reversion should be put to a referendum to include the voices of residents – those who would be most affected.
Reynolds said he sees several options to combine school systems, which has been a central topic of the reversion discussion. He added that he would like to explore the financial feasibility of consolidating city and county school systems, but another option could be the county contracting to operate city schools. He is already envisioning what he would do as a school board member if reversion moves forward and the county takes control of the city’s schools.
“Martinsville High School needs a gym, and we cannot afford to spend $20 million on a gym,” he said. However, the legacy of the high school and its importance to the community should be preserved. If reversion does move forward, Reynolds said, he would like to reopen Laurel Park High School, move students there, and repurpose the current high school as both a central office for the school superintendent and other staff, and as a career/trade school.
A potential third use for the building—that of a transition school, which would help non-English speaking students work with teachers to improve their language, comprehension, and writing skills before moving into a more traditional classroom, also is on his radar.
“We had 315 students who needed English-speaking skills last year,” Reynolds said, adding that overall, he would like to see increased transparency in local government.
“I want everybody to be able to see what goes on,” he said. “I want to stop the backdoor meetings.”
He suggested joint meetings of two boards would give residents an opportunity to see how both bodies function.
“I’ve always wondered why we couldn’t have the meetings together,” Reynolds said. If the county oversees school funding, “I think taxpayers have a right to be there to witness what goes on between the school board and the supervisors.”
Though he sees much he would like to improve if elected, Reynolds said the county continues to excel at protecting students, faculty, and staff during the pandemic. He also congratulated the school system on the construction of a new centrally located bus garage and maintenance facility, which will allow buses to get to each school within 8-10 minutes. This will be especially beneficial in the event of an emergency in which students need to be quickly evacuated.
Reynolds said he has donated 20 years of his life to the schools as a volunteer. He also is the organizer of the annual Jennifer Short Memorial Scholarship Ride, now in its 19th year. Operating under the umbrella of the Bassett Kiwanis Foundation, the ride has raised over $40,000 and provided 57 scholarships to Bassett High School students.
If elected, “I will be your voice,” Reynolds said.