Spotsylvania News

Jeff Branscome writes about Spotsylvania County.

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Bigger cut for schools wanted

Facing at least a $7 million shortfall to cover anticipated needs for the coming school year, Spotsylvania School Board members are looking for ways to convince the Board of Supervisors to consider more local funding.

Board member Dawn Shelley suggested asking the community to “beg” for more money during public comment time in the supervisors’ upcoming meetings.

Colleague Bill Blaine said the board has a duty to convey its “values” to the supervisors because its role is to represent the needs of children and teachers.

And Shelley noted, as board Chairwoman Amanda Blalock has previously, that good schools are tied to the county’s prosperity.

Though Shelley said she dislikes the idea of raising taxes, schools are one of the first things companies look at when evaluating where to locate. So if Spotsylvania’s division can’t keep pace with instruction and employee compensation, companies will look elsewhere.

“If we can’t fund our schools adequately, they might be going north of us and we don’t want that,” she said.

The School Board is considering crafting a letter to the supervisors outlining school needs and the funding shortfall. The School Board is scheduled to present its fiscal 2014 budget to the supervisors on March 19, but that is one week after the supervisors advertise county tax rates.

Once advertised, they cannot be raised. So supervisors wouldn’t have the ability to raise real estate or personal property taxes, the chief way to provide additional school funding.

“We have to communicate to them what we see are true needs, not wants, and the impact of them,” board member Jim Meyer said.

The School Board holds its next budget work session Thursday, at which it expects to see details of a streamlining proposal from Superintendent Scott Baker that will cut the shortfall by about $500,000.

The budget he proposed on Jan. 28 falls $8.2 million short of expected funding. But with streamlining, and updated figures provided to the board at its work session last Thursday by Chief Financial Officer LaShahn Gaines, that budget gap fell by $1.2 million.

Gaines said the health insurance rate increase is expected to drop from the original projection of 10 percent to 9.3 percent, saving the schools $200,000. In addition, state funding is expected to be $500,000 more than originally anticipated.

Gaines noted that a 1-cent increase in the real estate tax would generate $1.2 million.

The School Board is basing all figures on the expectation of receiving $114.8 million from the county, which is what County Administrator Doug Barnes recommended in his fiscal 2014 budget proposal.

At Thursday’s work session, Gaines showed the board the costs of various salary options, including a 2 percent increase (for which the state has offered partial one-time funding), a 1 percent cost-of-living raise and a $500 bonus.

But with the current funding shortfall, Spotsylvania Education Association President Peter Pfotenhauer said none of them looked viable.

“It looks like they have 8.2 million reasons why they can’t give us a raise,” he said after the meeting.

Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972