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Budget options discussed for Stafford schools

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Stafford County teachers could see a boost in pay next year. But some other employees might receive pink slips. 

The School Board met Thursday night to hash out the details of the budget. The school division asked for $13 million from the county’s Board of Supervisors for teacher raises but instead received $2.7 million. Supervisors say that amount allows for raises, but the School Board members said the budget makes it hard to find the money to boost employee pay.

The Board of Supervisors gave the schools about $1 million less to spend on administration, a cut that school officials said could mean firing employees. But the county’s staff counters that the budget requires school officials to make careful choices.

“There is never enough money, that is the very definition of budget,” Nancy Collins, budget director for Stafford County, said earlier.

At Thursday night’s meeting, the School Board considered eight scenarios for employee raises, discussed the cuts to administrative spending and learned details about the need for additional special education teachers.

The options for raises ranged from a 3 percent pay hike to a 5.5 percent hike. Some scenarios called for employees to pick up the increased costs of health insurance. It would cost the school division $1.5 million to absorb those costs instead of passing them on to employees.

School Board members wondered if the supervisors understood the impact of the cuts in administration.

“Perhaps the intent is to make some shifting of responsibilities out of this building and back into the classroom and into our schools,” Nanette Kidby said.

But the administrative cuts won’t be that simple, said Patty Sullivan, director of budget and grants for the schools.

She told the board that more than half of the money in the administrative category can’t be touched because it pays for mandated positions or services.

School Board members thought that perhaps supervisors wanted them to cut instructional coordinators and specialists, but the money for those positions actually comes from the instructional category.

Supervisor Cord Sterling said earlier that the county leaders wanted to quell the administrative spending, which has increased significantly since 2010.

The School Board members also learned more about the need for special education teachers. The department will need 12 new teachers as of July 1, director Sue Clarke said.

Board member Dewayne McOsker wondered how great the need really was, saying that in Clarke’s position, he might inflate the number of teachers needed.

Clarke said that the number of students with autism has risen dramatically in the past few years, and the school division has to meet that demand. If the teachers aren’t provided and the school division falls out of compliance, the ensuing lawsuits could be even more costly, she said.

“This is not an option, we have to have these needs taken care of before the children get here,” School Board member Dana Reinboldt said. “If that means we have to cut someplace else, we have to cut someplace else. This is non-negotiable.”

But McOsker said his biggest priority was giving teacher raises, which would affect all students, and not just those in special education.

“We have a lot of kids in the school system and the teachers are leaving,” McOsker said. “What about the kids who will be without a teacher next year because the teachers are leaving?”

The School Board asked the division’s staff to come back next week with a scenario that gives employee raises, keeps the special education additions and offers several options for cuts.

“This is pretty painful as board members to sit here and make these decisions,” Meg Bohmke said. “We don’t really know everything that goes on in the classroom every day. We’re dealing with people’s lives here, and it’s really painful.”

Amy Flowers Umble: 540/735-1973



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