The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Fredericksburg school board approves budget, step increase
The Fredericksburg School Board approved a 2013–14 school year budget Monday night that includes an average 3 percent step increase for teachers.
The $37.5 million operating budget is a 4.89 percent increase over the current year’s budget. It includes a 6 percent increase in health insurance rates. It also includes a 1.19 percent state retirement life insurance rate and a 17.77 percent employer contribution rate to the Virginia Retirement System.
The board is asking the City Council for $26.1 million in funding, which is $1.2 million more than this year, or a 4.81 percent increase.
In addition to the average 3 percent step increase, impacted employees will receive another 1 percent to cover their portion of the state retirement contribution.
The School Board had been expected to act Monday on the awarding of a contract for architectural services for expansion of Hugh Mercer Elementary, but the issue was removed from the agenda. Instead, the board will hold a special meeting at 5 p.m. Friday to discuss the issue.
Hugh Mercer Elementary is operating over capacity, and the City Council has approved financing for a 10,000-square-foot expansion expected to cost $2.5 million. A preliminary study suggested adding eight classrooms and two resource rooms.
Funding is being split between the schools and the city. The schools’ money for the project is coming out of this year’s budget, Superintendent David Melton said. About $1.4 million of the cost is to come from city reserves.
The school was built for 800–825 students but, as of late November, had 885 enrolled.
Also at Monday’s meeting, Melton told the board that the city won’t fund the board’s request to immediately place a full-time school resource officer at Walker–Grant Middle School.
“It’s still possible it could be [funded] in the future,” Board Chairwoman Barbara Miller–Richards said.
City Manager Beverly Cameron sent a letter to Miller–Richards on Feb. 19 saying he didn’t support the request, given statistics provided by the city police chief, who analyzed data from 2008-2012.
“Given the number of incidents that required police intervention or the documentation of a police report at Walker–Grant Middle School over the studied five-year time frame, it is difficult to justify the dedicated assignment of police resources in this one location,” Cameron wrote.
He added that the police department will continue working with the school on security issues but said there is not “one simple solution.”
He noted that it is “critical” to evaluate issues of physical security to make it harder for people to gain access and to develop threat assessment strategies to prevent incidents.
He acknowledged the December shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school that has raised safety concerns nationwide but offered his perspective.
“Although the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook was an unconscionable assault against what should be an inviolate haven for our children, the local school, it is important to remember that children are very safe in schools and that incidents of school violence are extremely rare,” Cameron wrote.
Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972