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Culpeper schools propose $81.3M budget

If the School Board gets everything it is requesting in its fiscal 2015 budget, Culpeper County taxpayers could be looking at a 14-cent real estate tax rate hike come December.

District Superintendent Bobbi Johnson on Tuesday proposed an $81.3 million budget to the Board of Supervisors that includes $1.7 million in new staffing and a 4.33 percent hike in teacher step raises.

That could add about 6 cents onto the county tax rate.

A capital improvements plan request of about $3.5 million could tack on another 8 cents to the real estate rate.

Realistically, according to County Administrator Frank Bossio, that is not likely to happen, but sometime between now and the end of April—when the county adopts its budget—the supervisors will have to determine just how much to cut from the schools’ requests.

Meanwhile, the uncertainties of what state monies might be forthcoming—the General Assembly adjourned without passing a budget—further complicate matters.

With a lower composite index (based on the wealth of the county residents), Culpeper stands to gain about 10 percent additional state money next year. If all other revenues come in as projected, local taxpayers will need to come up with about 2.4 million new dollars to balance the School Board budget.

The proposed $81.3 million budget is about 8.7 percent higher than this year’s $74.9 million budget.

Based on the findings of a recent independent study, the School Board is proposing to raise the teacher pay steps to keep in sync with other local districts, including Albemarle, Spotsylvania and Fauquier.

Johnson pointed out that those steps have remained static for the past four years when Culpeper and the rest of the country were in the grip of the worst recession in seven decades.

As for adding 17 new teachers, the superintendent said that a growing student population was pushing many classes to the 30-pupil point, a number frowned upon by the state board of education.

She also added that 11 new support staff members—including two secondary test coordinators—were badly needed.

“High schools are giving about 10,000 [standardized] tests a year and much of that work is falling on guidance counselors,” Johnson told the supervisors.

She added that a third assistant principal at Culpeper Middle School is a high priority.

“Culpeper Middle is the second-largest school in our system and right now each of the two assistant principals is responsible for 350 students for discipline and other matters,” Johnson said.

While state requirements do not mandate a third principal, Johnson called this a “need of reality.”

Supervisors questioned Johnson on a number of budget issues, including the proposed $10,099 cost-per-pupil figure (a projected enrollment of 8,055) and the structure of the teacher salary scale.

The superintendent was asked if moving the administrative offices out of the old section of Floyd T. Binns Middle School and creating new classrooms there would help stave off the need for building a new middle school.

She said such a move could buy four or five years.

After the supervisors pass a county budget, the School Board will readjust its budget, likely in early May.

Donnie Johnston:

djohnston@freelancestar.com

 

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