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School pay raises urged in Spotsy

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More than 3,000 Spotsylvania County schools employees stand to receive pay raises under schools Superintendent Scott Baker’s proposed 2015 budget presented to the School Board Thursday evening.

The raise, which is fully funded in the proposed budget and will cost $4.7 million, would include a step increase and a 1 percent cost-of-living increase for staff.

If approved by the Board of Supervisors, the raise will be the first step increase for staff since 2008.

In last year’s budget, the supervisors declined to provide additional local money for staff increases. The School Board then omitted the 2 percent cost-of-living raises originally sought for teachers in the 2014 schools budget after the Board of Supervisors declined to give them an additional $3.2 million in local funds for the fiscal year.

The $275.4 million 2015 schools budget is $1.9 million short of being fully funded. Staff hope to make up that unfunded portion, which represents an increase in retirement services, through increased state, local or federal funds.

The shortfall, though, is the lowest since 2009 according to the budget proposal. The smaller gap in funding was made lower than originally projected because of increased enrollment funds from the state, deferring capital improvement projects and a lower health care increase than was expected.

Budget drivers this year include the salary raises, benefits totaling an additional $5.9 million, special education costs and utility costs.

Baker said additional priorities were not included in the budget since there was no way to fund them. He was not able to include additional teaching positions, additional investments in technology, new courses, additional funding to support special needs groups, or restoration of positions, programs or services previously reduced or lost in budget reductions for the division in 2015.

School Board member Amanda Blalock noted that the shortfall “didn’t hurt as much” as previous years, and contained no cuts, but still did not add teaching positions.

Schools Chief Financial Officer LaShahn Gaines said the division is trying to “focus limited funds we do have and reward those who have been loyal and stayed with us.”

The board also asked staff to study where additional savings could be made.

Board member Baron Braswell wanted to know “how far the surface was scratched” to find additional funds to absorb costs, especially to reduce athletic fees. Braswell advised that some more-expensive sports, such as swimming, could be cut to help fully fund other sports.

Board member Erin Grampp asked staff to bring back information on what services or products, such as fuel, could be purchased in conjunction with the county.

The School Board will hold a public hearing on the budget at its Jan. 27 meeting, followed by School Board approval on Feb. 10 and presentation to the Board of Supervisors on Feb. 18.

Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976