School board reviews budget challenges for next year

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Education Budget

By Randy Arrington

LURAY, Jan. 27 — Same story, different year. The schools need more money, and they plan to ask the board of supervisors for it in the coming months. And school board members are asking the public to take their message to the Page County Board of Supervisors.

“Talk to the people that hold the purse strings and tell them what we need,” school board chairman Jim Grimley told those attending the school board meeting. “And make sure that they understand that this is not what we want, but what we need. If they want good schools in this county, this is what we need.”

Dr. Wendy Gonzales, superintendent of Page County Public Schools, noted that either new industry needed to locate to the county to ease the tax burden, or taxes needed to be raised in order to generate the revenue schools needed to do their job.

For the most part, the preliminary school budget actually calls for close to level funding from the county (only an additional $18,000 projected at this point). An additional $1.7 million is being projected from the state, but a reduction of $891,485 is expected in federal funding. However, too many variables still remain (such as state funding and student enrollment or “ADM,” which state funding is based on) to get a complete or fully accurate picture of next year’s school budget.

The Jan. 27 presentation served only as an informational session for school board members to get a quick overview of some of the challenges that they will face as they decide how to divvy up about $40 million in public funds. Among the key challenges that will be discussed in the 2020-21 budget process are:

  • Increases to VRS payments
  • Increases to group life insurance payments
  • Increases to the retirement health plan
  • Changes to the special education program
  • Proposed salary increases

Lee Meadows, a teacher at Page County Middle School and the president the Page County Education Association, was the only speaker to address the school board during the pre-budget public hearing. She questioned how the county would cover its part of the 3-percent increase over three years planned for teachers statewide.

“I hope the board will make every effort to live up to its obligation.” Meadows said.

She particularly asked the board to consider an increase in pay for substitute teachers, who remain in short supply. She noted that due to an inability to attract enough substitutes, teachers are being asked not to take off from work and to fill vacancies during their planning periods. 

She also asked that special attention be given to bus drivers, who are also in short supply, leading to many double runs.

One particular area of concern for county teachers is attrition, Meadows said. Nearly all surrounding localities offer better salaries than Page, and some teachers will leave for a few years and come back to the local division with a higher salary (as a “new” teacher).

“Those who stay should not be punished for being loyal and staying here in Page County… rather than leaving and coming back,” Meadows said. “We need a fair and equitable system.”

At the end of the meeting, Jennifer Biller, of Stanley, asked the school board to remember the non-instructional staff as they work through the budget process.

“Custodians and cafeteria workers are forgotten… a lot. I have seen staff lists where custodians are not even on there, and they work very, very hard,” Biller said. “We ask that you think about us when you consider salaries… for those of us at the bottom of the ladder. Remember everyone as a whole.”

The superintendent plans to present the school board with a final proposed budget in late March, with the final recommended budget going to the board of supervisors in April.

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