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State funding still mystery to Spotsylvania School Board

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While Spotsylvania School Board Chairman James Meyer is thankful for the promise of additional county funds to close the division’s $1.6 million budget gap, he reminded board members Thursday that more challenges remain before fiscal year 2015 numbers are set in stone.

Paramount to those concerns is the still looming state budget decision.

“This year, given that we don’t have a state budget in sight, knowing the local gap in covered is much appreciated,” Superintendent Scott Baker echoed.

Before Tuesday, the $275.4 million 2015 schools budget was $1.6 million short of being fully funded. That unfunded portion, which represents an increase in retirement services, will be made up locally by a unanimously approved 41-cent rate increase to the personal property tax on cars and other vehicles.

The new rate of $6.78 per $100 of assessed value will generate about $2.6 million in additional revenue, allowing the county to fully fund the School Board’s spending plan, along with other county services.

The schools budget also includes the comprehensive first salary raise six years.

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

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.

BUDGET SCENARIOS

During the work session Thursday, the School Board heard about what could be done if the state provides additional funding for the 2015 fiscal year, and what can be done to free up funds for 2016 and beyond.

If additional funds are provided by the state for fiscal year 2015, the division hopes to reduce athletics fees from $100 to $75 per student.

School Board member Baron Braswell, who ran on a platform of eliminating these fees, said that while he wants to sunset the cost for students to play sports for good, he understands that the division faces real budget constraints.

He does, however, want to see the reduction go a step further so students of division employees have athletics fees waived.

By reducing the fee to $75, the division would need $87,000 more in funding.

The division sent out a survey to other Virginia school districts. Of the 67 districts that responded, 83 percent do not have athletic fees. Of those which do, only Orange matches the $100 per student cost. All others had lower costs. Fauquier County charges $60 per student. Hampton has the lowest fee, at $20.

The board will hear what it would cost to waive the cost for division employees at its next work session.

School Board member Amanda Blalock supported the reduction, but cautioned other members not to change what has already been included in the budget drastically, since funds are tight.

“I’m not comfortable changing it so close to the hour,” she said.

increases in pay?

The board also discussed increasing sports coaching stipends by 5 percent, increasing the substitute teacher pay rate and increase food service funds.

Blalock and members Bill Blaine and Dawn Shelley said they would also like to restore para-educator positions that were cut in tougher budget years.

“Let’s look at that,” Blalock said. “We need to hit where the kids are. Somebody needs to advocate for that classroom.”

Shelley said substitute pay was of particular concern to her.

In future years, the division has made offering salary increases annually a priority. That, in addition to increasing health care and retirement costs, will drive a higher budget each year.

In 2016, a $7 million gap is expected. That gap is expected to continue to increase beyond that.

One idea to save money was streamlining operations with the county.

The school division and county already purchase services such as health insurance and fiber-optic cable together. Heating oil, recycling and propane are in the process of being streamlined with the county now.

Future efforts could include broadcasting equipment, disability plans, architectural services, paving and roofing.

The School Board will hold another budget work session May 1, and will hear reports on pay scales and bond referendums.

It is slated to approve a final budget on May 12.

Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976

lestes@freelancestar.com

 

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