A time to listen: Buckingham politicians discuss issues at town hall

Published 7:24 am Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Buckingham politicians asked questions, answered others and generally talked with residents during their December town hall meeting.

In a matter of days, Paul Garrett will succeed Jordan Miles as Maysville’s representative on the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors. And it wasn’t something Garrett — a retired schoolteacher — ever thought he’d find himself doing.

“Once I found out that Jordan wasn’t going to run, I figured since there was going to be a change, why not me?” Garrett said. “I feel like I have some, maybe, different perspectives. I’m not a politician. Well, at least until I got into this, I wasn’t a politician.”

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Garrett has a lot to learn joining the county government, but expects to grow his knowledge quickly. Especially because he wants to be as effective as possible for his constituents from behind the dais.

“I didn’t know the ins and outs of the political game, so to speak, or whatever it is. But I just figured I was somebody that maybe don’t know how things run, but wants to find out.”

And he plans to do that simply by listening. To his constituents in Maysville. And to other boards in neighboring counties. It’s the fastest and easiest way to arrive at solutions for problems facing Buckingham in the coming year — and it leaves working out the kinks to someone else.

“I told people when I was going around to campaign, it’s not a new question of what we need to be done,” Garrett said. “I mean, we need to increase the tax base. We need better employment. We need housing for people. Things like that that we’ve wanted here in Buckingham that have been pretty much the same problems all my lifetime. 

“If we can look at some of the counties that maybe have gone through similar problems — that have already met some of their goals that we want to meet — if we can find out from their model, what did they do? Is there anything we can learn from that so that we are not just going in from scratch with a bunch of ideas that we’re not really sure of. We can maybe use some proven methods that have worked in other places, and try new things.”

In Buckingham, change takes money 

Yet, change takes money. And there is only so many times Buckingham officials can go to property owners and collect more taxes. But that is far from the only way to build up the county’s financial war chest to achieve some of the objectives Garrett has set out to accomplish.

“If there are different methods of taxation that could come around — or different methods of getting the revenue that maybe will affect some people that real estate personal property taxes don’t affect a whole lot,” he said. “We’re looking for different avenues — getting some industry in, and getting some good jobs, and things like that would be a big plus. But that’s not going to be an instant fix.”

Also joining Miles in the town hall was Joii Goodman, who earned himself re-election to the Buckingham County School Board — a job he’s held since 2015. 

Unlike Garett, Thompson is not facing a learning curve for the job. But he does hope newcomers to the political scene like Garrett will help develop some fresh perspectives beyond his new spot on the Board of Supervisors.

“We know in a report that the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission that works with the General Assembly had concluded that Virginia school districts receive 14% less funding than the national average,” Goodman said. 

That’s the equivalent to about $1,900 less per student.

“There needs to be some practical changes to that,” Goodman said. “The main thing is, of course, Supervisor Miles and Supervisor-elect Garrett will be working together, but highlights more now than ever the importance of policymakers at the state and local levels to work together to practically assist our school division.”

All of those efforts come not just from the fact it’s the right thing to do, but because Virginia’s state constitution — which establishes and maintains high-quality education for all students — requires.

“Our children are our future, and ensuring that they have a quality education — that needs to be important to understand the fiscal responsibilities, the fiscal constraints, that we have,” Goodman said. “I just want to make sure we do whatever we can to support our children and our staff and our educational leaders.”

Maintaining state accreditation

And then there is maintaining accreditation with the state, ensuring the Buckingham school system meets all of the educational requirements set forth by lawmakers in Richmond.

Earning the right levels of accreditation already isn’t easy for schools. But newer guidelines could make that even harder.

“There have been certain stipulations that have been added to that now that, quite frankly, are going to make it a little bit more difficult for us to get accredited,” Goodman said. “One of those things is attendance. Now they’ve linked attendance with the accreditation piece, whereas before it was linked with what they would consider to be accountability standards. So that’s a major shift.”

But not a negative shift.

“That means we’re all going to have to work collectively in order to ensure that our children are in the schools, and educating the parents to understand why it is that children need to be in school.”

It also means making sure schools can cope with potential outbreaks — like those related to COVID-19. Still, attendance isn’t an issue just affecting Buckingham County schools — or even Virginia schools, for that matter — Miles said.

“There was a huge issue across the state, and then the United States, in public schools with chronic absenteeism, and that is really affecting learning in a major way,” the outgoing supervisor said. “Each state is trying to figure out where a lot of these students are, and trying to capture them and bring them back, to educate them. And that’s been a major issue.”