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Spotsy schools seek more local funding

The Spotsylvania School Board will go before the Board of Supervisors tonight, asking for $3.2 million more in funding for the 2013–14 school year despite the supervisors’ refusal to consider an increase in county tax rates.

The two School Board priorities are to give employees a 2 percent cost-of-living raise and restore 14 teaching positions, items that account for $2.6 million of the additional funding sought.

School Board Chairwoman Amanda Blalock said her focus in presenting the board’s budget will be on how to maintain a quality division.

“My job is to make sure they’re aware of all the school division needs,” Blalock said. “The tax rate doesn’t change the way I approach the budget cycle in any way or what our needs are.”

The School Board sent an electronic letter to the Board of Supervisors last week to convey that it would be requesting $3.2 million more in funding than recommended by County Administrator Doug Barnes.

The timing was critical because the supervisors were deciding that day what tax rates to advertise. Each penny increase in the real estate tax rate would have raised $1.2 million.

Once a tax rate is advertised, it cannot be increased.

The supervisors, in a 5–2 vote, decided last Tuesday to advertise the current real estate tax rate of 88 cents per $100 of assessed value and a personal property tax rate of $6.37 per $100 of assessed value.

Barnes’ recommendation is that the division receive the same funding as this year, $114.8 million.

Monday night, the School Board unanimously approved a fiscal 2014 budget that calls for $3.2 million more in local funds. The budget approved by the School Board totals $277.7 million, including a $249.2 million operating fund.

That total is $5 million less than the board started with when Superintendent Scott Baker presented his budget proposal on Jan. 28.

Last week, Baker cut $1.1 million from division expenses through a streamlining plan that resulted in a net loss of 11 positions. Included in that was eliminating 16 technology and instruction positions, only one of which had been located in a school.

The other cuts resulted from revisions to the health insurance plan, a revision to the capital improvements plan, a decrease in the health insurance rate, the elimination of seven new bus driver positions and a new internal auditor. It also included $500,000 more in state funding.

School Board Vice Chairman Jim Meyer said he’s hopeful the supervisors will be able to find additional school funding from some source.

“We’re not trying to tell them what to do or how to do it, but we’re asking for their support,” Meyer said.

“We’re going in with the approach that a strong school division is the best incentive for businesses to come to Spotsylvania County.”

A 2 percent raise would cost Spotsylvania $1.6 million because the state will pick up an equal amount for one year.

The division wants to restore 14 teaching positions, 11 of which would go to elementary schools to decrease class sizes. Those positions would cost $1 million.

The remaining $600,000 of the $3.2 million shortfall would cover unfunded portions of health insurance increases and an increase in the state retirement contribution for non-professional employees such as bus drivers.

School Board member Ray Lora said he supported the board’s budget proposal but doesn’t expect the schools to get anything more than current funding.

“Anything else beyond that is a dream,” he said.

He said he believes the majority of the current board won’t support a tax increase during its tenure, which will last another three years.

With that in mind, he sees no hope of a pay raise or additional teaching positions for next year.

For additional savings, he supports an idea floated during the last budget cycle: to quit using a private attorney and instead meet the county’s legal needs through one consolidated office.

While Lora is pessimistic about the prospect of additional funding for the fiscal year starting on July 1, Blalock said she has reason for optimism.

She said she has spoken to some members of the Board of Supervisors who have indicated they support some level of increase.

“I do think we will get something above level funding this year,” Blalock said. “The amount above level, I am unsure.”

She said one reason for her outlook is a shared perspective.

“I do know raises and hiring more teachers is a priority of theirs,” she said.

Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972