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Stafford School Board scrambling to fund raises

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As they prepare to vote on their upcoming budget, Stafford School Board members have heatedly debated various scenarios for teacher raises.

But the argument is most likely academic.

It would take a little more than $4 million to give raises to Stafford school employees.

The county administrator’s proposed budget suggests increasing the school division’s budget by only $2 million.

And the School Board is already facing nearly $8 million in required increases—expenses they have to pay but which are not fully funded in the budget. Rising employee benefit costs account for most of that increase, but special education and contracted services are also raising the price tag.

“These expenses have to be met,” Chairwoman Nanette Kidby said.

About $4.7 million of those benefits costs come from the governor’s proposed budget, which calls for higher employer contribution rates for teacher retirement benefits. The state budget is at an impasse, but Stafford schools budget officials expect the increase in benefits costs to remain the school division’s responsibility.

“We have to find $4.7 million, and that’s just to survive,” said School Board member Dewayne McOsker. “It’s going to be tough.”

As the School Board members have debated raises and other desired items, they acknowledged that finding the money will be tough.

The county’s proposed budget suggests an equalized real estate tax rate with just fractional increase. That scenario would not give the schools enough money for the School Board members’ $139.4 million spending plan. The county would most likely give the schools just $2 million more, meaning that the School Board would have to shift money and trim other costs to come up with the $8 million in required expenses.

County supervisors have deferred advertising tax rates, or setting a public hearing on the fiscal year 2015 budget, waiting to get a peek at the School Board’s approved budget.

The School Board members are set to approve their budget on Tuesday night.

But at a work session held Wednesday night, the members still argued over the best way to compensate employees and to deal with the turnover as teachers leave Stafford for divisions that promise fatter paychecks.

They also talked about other expenses: replacing high-mileage buses and older computers, improving school safety, rising legal fees and replacing outdated textbooks.

Their wish list totaled $18.8 million in new money.

Most of this week’s discussion centered on two proposals for employee raises. The debate grew heated at times as School Board members couldn’t reach a consensus. Some wanted additional information on one proposal, but time is running out.

The schools’ budget staff needed some final numbers in order to have a budget drafted for Tuesday night’s vote.

Members argued over which proposal would give employees the most bang for the county’s buck.

“We’re probably not going to be able to do any of it anyway,” School Board member Patricia Healy said. “Whatever we ask for is not likely to get funded.”

Amy Umble: 540/735-1973


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