The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Spotsy schools explain increase
A group of about 25 teachers donning bright orange T-shirts quietly graded papers in the back three rows of the Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors chamber while the School Board presented its 2013–14 budget, hoping the county would take their needs into consideration.
Peter Pfotenhauser, a sixth- and seventh-grade teacher at Ni River Middle School and president of the Spotsylvania Education Association, headed up the group.
“We felt it was important given the important political climate to be here supporting the School Board as they presented the budget,” he said, adding that his primary concern is class size.
The teachers brought papers to grade, which Pfotenhauser said they would be doing anyway at home during the evening. “This is not disorderly or disrespectful, but it shows the workload that most people are unaware of,” he said.
The Spotsylvania School Board approved the 2013–14 schools budget Monday night and presented it to the supervisors Tuesday, asking for an increase of $3.2 million in local funds. The school board’s top priorities, totaling $2.6 million, are to give employees a 2 percent cost-of-living raise and to restore 14 teaching positions.
The other $600,000 of the increase would cover unfunded portions of health insurance increases and an increase in the state retirement contribution for non-professional employees.
The School Board alerted the supervisors that they would be requesting the $3.2 million in an email last week to county administrator Doug Barnes.
The School Board also highlighted that their homeless student population has increased 20 percent in the last year. They said the cost of free and reduced lunches and transportation for those students is considerable.
The School Board wanted to inform the supervisors of the requested increase before a real estate tax rate for the county was advertised. However, the supervisors decided with a 5–2 vote last Tuesday to advertise the current real estate tax.
Once the rate is advertised it cannot be increased without re-advertising and holding additional public hearings.
The fiscal year 2014 schools budget totals $277.7 million, including a $249.2 million operating fund.
The original schools budget presented to the School Board on January 28 by Superintendent Scott Baker had a budget shortfall of $8.2 million. The School Board cut that gap by letting go of a restructuring plan and health insurance revisions.
When presenting the budget to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday night, School Board Chairwoman Amanda Blalock called the plan “a needs-based budget. The bottom line is that these are all needs.”
The citizen budget review committee, a panel re-established by the Board of Supervisors in 2012 to insure citizen priorities are considered, reported that they did not see a need to increase the schools budget. The committee said the ongoing success of the school division, current inability of the county to increase revenue and lack of significant projected growth of the student population make schools the last of their three priorities.
Supervisor Benjamin Pitts asked the committee chairman Greg Cebula, who presented the recommendations, why inflation was not taken into consideration when crafting the report.
Pitts said he “will stand by the fact that the majority of my constituents for 14 years said education and public safety were their priorities.”
During the School Board’s presentation, Chancellor Middle School principal Keith Wolfe talked about investments in literacy the division made with additional local funds in previous budget years. He spoke about one student in particular, who could not pass a test in the beginning of the school year because he could not read the instructions. This past Friday he exceeded a passing grade. Wolfe said the program was a huge benefit and “put him [the student] back on a right track.”
Supervisor David Ross said that the board does support education as a priority. But he wanted the School Board to consider that they have received at least $2 million in additional funds from the county every year since 2009.
Supervisor Timothy McLaughlin said that the county is in tough economic times and asked the School Board to think about what they are asking the county to do. McLaughlin said he estimated taxes would need to increase 6 percent to fund school and county pay raises.
Blalock responded by saying the School Board was not asking for a tax increase. She hopes the county can find the money elsewhere.
McLaughlin said he would try to get the schools 14 new teachers, but their other requests would be harder to fund.
Supervisors Chairman Paul Trampe said that he understands serving a low-income population is hard and the county would help them as much as they could, but they are not that much better off economically than they were in 2009.
Trampe’s strategy is to help the schools through proceeds from economic growth. He said when business grows, the county receives more money and that money could be use to aid schools.
Trampe said he is not as optimistic as McLaughlin that all 14 teaching positions can be filled.
“I’d ask for your patience,” he said. “We have a hole to dig out of and we’re doing it slowly but surely.”
Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976