SPOTSYLVANIA COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — As a Virginia county faces a budget gap of over $21 million, school officials have floated radical cuts to key programs, including eliminating libraries and specialty programs.

A Spotsylvania County school board meeting devolved into sporadic shouting matches and jeers on March 27, 2023 after Superintendent Mark Taylor, facing a budget shortfall of as much as $21.8 million from the county, made a series of unpopular proposals to trim the school budget.

“I wanna be very clear that I personally dislike each and every item on this list as much as anyone in this room,” he said. “The hard fact is that we may — circle the word “may” please — we may have to close a serious gap in our FY24 budget depending on what the board of supervisors does and depending on what Richmond does.”

Options to close the school budget gap presented by Superintendent Mark Taylor. (Courtesy of Spotsylvania County Schools)

Taylor has already made headlines in Spotsylvania, when his lack of any educational background and history of inflammatory social media posts made his appointment by the slim conservative majority — specially approved by the state Board of Education in an acrimonious hearing last year — a controversial choice.

Even the board members who supported Taylor’s hiring made it clear that they disapproved of his proposals, with board member Kirk Twigg — himself facing felony forgery charges over his board activities — saying, “The libraries will not be a part of that.”

Rabih Abuismail, another conservative member of the board, vowed to ask the board of supervisors to dedicate the entirety of a proposed ten-cent property tax hike to the school division.

On March 14, county budget planners informed the supervisors that to cover the needs of not only the school division but also the sheriff’s department, transportation planners and fire department, they would need to raise the property tax rate by 27.4 cents.

The county’s current property tax rate is $0.7377 per $100 of assessed value. The county has been slashing the property tax — which provides most of the county’s school funding — since 2011, when it was $0.88.

Now, the county has proposed to raise the rate by ten cents, generating an extra $19 million in revenue. That’s less than half the increase needed to meet the budget requests of all county services.

The school division is also facing the possibility of more state funding reductions under a placeholder “skinny budget.”

Nicole Cole, a member of the school board’s liberal minority, harshly criticized Taylor for bringing up the potential elimination of school libraries and 60 teachers.

“Mr. Taylor, what were you thinking? This is what grossly irresponsible looks like,” she said.

When she went on to criticize the board members who supported Taylor’s hiring, a brief shouting match began between her and other members of the board.

Taylor justified including the option of eliminating all school libraries by pointing out that the $21.8 million gap was over 5% of the total schools budget.

“As much as we all might dislike the idea, it is true that at least a handful of school divisions across the country have have closed libraries as a cost-cutting–,” he said, but was cut off by jeers from the residents in attendance.

Eliminating all school libraries would likely put Spotsylvania County in violation of the state standards of quality, which set minimum guidelines for local school programs. Most of the schools in Spotsylvania are required to have at least one full-time librarian, while some smaller elementary schools are permitted to have a part-time librarian instead.