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Spotsy supervisors hear pleas for more school money

Spotsylvania County educators and parents requested more money for public schools at a budget public hearing Thursday evening, even though it appears the Board of Supervisors is unwilling to raise taxes.

“It’s easy and cheap for politicians to say they support schools,” Spotsylvania Education Association President Peter Pfotenhauer said at the hearing. “It’s much harder and more expensive for politicians to act and pay for quality schools.”

Many of the approximately 60 speakers were there to support schools or regional agencies.

The School Board has asked for $3.2 million more in local funding—to help fund 2 percent raises and restore 14 teaching positions—for the budget year that runs July 1, 2013, through June 30, 2014. But supervisors have advertised the same real estate tax rate as last year, and the county administrator is recommending no change in county spending on public schools.

Some speakers urged board members to raise the current real estate tax rate of 88 cents per $100 of assessed value. That would require another public hearing, which is unlikely.

Cynthia Raymond said families would be willing to pay higher taxes if they care about “each precious child. How about buying one less case of beer or one less bottle of wine, or fewer visits to Starbucks or Wawa for the coffee we really want?” she said.

The owner of an average home worth $169,933 would pay about $17 more if supervisors raised the tax rate by a penny. Each penny represents $1.2 million for the upcoming fiscal year.

The School Board and the Board of Supervisors held a joint town hall meeting before the budget hearing, but nobody in attendance chose to address them in person. Instead, members of both boards answered written questions submitted in advance—such as which of them currently have children in the county’s public school system and why supervisors advertised tax rates before the School Board presented its proposed budget to them.

School Board members Dawn Shelley and Amanda Blalock and Supervisor Timothy McLaughlin answered that they have children enrolled in Spotsylvania schools.

Supervisors Chairman Paul Trampe, addressing the tax rate question, said the county has a timeline to meet. Supervisors must advertise and approve tax rates before residents receive their tax bills, which are due June 5.

“The one thing that we could’ve done better and can do next year is coordinate that schedule better with the School Board so we’re hearing from them first,” Trampe said.

Greg Cebula, chairman of the county’s citizen budget advisory committee, commended supervisors for holding the line on taxes at the budget hearing. But he said he would’ve preferred that they advertise a higher rate. “At least then a carrot offering some flexibility and consideration could have been given to citizen requests,” he said.

Speaker Dale Swanson, president of the Spotsylvania Republican Women’s Club, said she thinks supervisors will adequately fund schools. “I don’t think pouring money at a problem will fix it,” she said.” I think we can solve this problem by cutting back and by finding solutions.”

Several representatives from regional agencies, including Rappahannock United Way and Rappahannock Big Brothers Big Sisters, also asked for the board’s support. McLaughlin has questioned the county’s spending on regional agencies and how it benefits the county.

The supervisors are scheduled to adopt a budget and tax rates next month.

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402