By Randy Arrington
During last year’s budget session, county schools initially requested $1.6 million more from the supervisors — an 11.4-percent increase to the then-$14 million local contribution to schools. The supervisors ultimately agreed to an increase of $304,000 — or 2.2 percent — for the current school year.
This year’s request for additional local funding for operations in the 2020-21 school year comes in initially at $590,444 — a 4.1-percent increase over the current $14.3 million local contribution.
In total, the school system projects an overall increase in expenses of about $2.2 million, including:
- Health insurance fringe — $720,000
- VRS mandated increase — $195,591
- Proposed salary increase (2%) — $470,942
- Shenandoah Valley regional program — $148,626
- Standards of Quality requirements — $480,000
- Other (various line items) — $231,291
However, nearly 73 percent of those projected additional costs will be absorbed by an anticipated increase in revenues from the state of about $1.7 million. Those figures will not be final until the governor signs off on all spending proposals at the end of the current General Assembly session.
County schools do expect a reduction in revenues in some line items, including federal funding ($24,200), and a decrease in recovered costs due to changes in regional and local programs ($925,400). Changes in those programs will reduce expenses as well.
Many of the big ticket items that are driving up expenses are mandated through the state legislature.
“We are proposing more funds to cover the health insurance fringe to keep those additional costs off our employees,” PCPS superintendent Wendy Gonzales told school members Monday night. “The [retirement] increase we have to absorb… we have no choice; and the salary increase line item is a placeholder… we don’t have to give it all now, but we have to give the full [3-percent] increase within three years, according to the state.”
Currently, the superintendent has three different plans that could be implemented to reach the goal of raising teacher salaries by 3 percent over the next three years.
Changes to requirements in the special education or SPED program, as well the Massanutten Regional Governor’s School and other regional programs, have affected both revenue and expense projections for the local school division for next year.
“Last year we were making adjustments for insurance,” Dr. Gonzales noted as a key factor in last year’s budget deliberations. “This year we’re making adjustments because of SPED.”
Standards of Quality, or SOQs, are state-mandated requirements that all public schools in the state must meet, from student-teacher ratios, to hiring special staff to handle certain areas. Among the $480,000 of projected costs associated with meeting SOQ standards next year are:
- Elementary teacher (LES) — $65,000
- IT Technicians (2) — $130,000
- SEC English teacher (PCMS/LHS) — $65,000
- Instr. Tech resource teacher (ITRT) — $65,000
- SEC Math teacher (LMS/LHS) — $70,000
- VPI teacher — $65,000
- VPI assistant — $20,000
If the supervisors agree to the increased funding, the local contribution for schools will grow to about $14.9 million. The total projected 2020-2021 operational budget for Page schools stands at $41.3 million — nearly 65 percent of the county’s overall budget.
Funds used to run the county’s public schools are broken into three budgets — operational, capital and the food program. The food program is almost entirely run with federal funds. As of last year, the board of supervisors agreed to allow the school system to separate out its capital improvements program.
Items not currently included in the schools’ CIP include:
- PA system (PCMS)
- Replace some staff desktops/laptops
- Phone system upgrade
- Seat belts for buses
The last item on the list will come with a $858,500 price tag, but it doesn’t have to be completed until 2027. Each school bus in the Commonwealth must be fitted with seatbelts within the next seven years at a cost of $16,500 per bus. Page County schools currently operate 52 buses.
While the school board plans to hold a joint meeting with the board of supervisors at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 3 to discuss the proposed operational budget for schools, the 10-year capital improvement plan will be discussed at a separate meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 11.
“It’s smart to start looking out,” Lisa Taglauer of Luray told school board members Monday night during citizen comment time. She serves as the Luray Middle School representative on the Parent Advisory Council.
“Hopefully you can work with the board of supervisors,” she continued, “and plan for these expenses you know are coming up.”
The school board plans to vote on the 2020-21 proposed budget at its next meeting on Monday, March 9. Then they will formally present the approved budget to supervisors in late March or early April.