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Shenandoah County School Board hears from public on proposed budget

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Keith Rowland

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

WOODSTOCK -- Parents and workers with the Shenandoah County Public Schools urged board members to pass a budget which keeps staff intact.

More than half a dozen people spoke Thursday night at a public hearing in the county government center held on the proposed fiscal 2013.

Superintendent B. Keith Rowland has proposed a $54.7 million budget for fiscal 2013, which includes an across-the-board 1.5-percent pay raise for employees. Spending also includes $1.7 million for a mandatory increase in payments into the Virginia Retirement System plus an additional $85,019 to the VRS and payroll tax of $37,069 to cover the 1.5 percent raise if approved. Under the proposal, the system would leave six positions vacant through retirements or attrition.

Bill Wheat, a counselor at Signal Knob Middle School, spoke on behalf of the Shenandoah County Education Association which has endorsed Rowland's proposed budget presented last week.

"His comments were right on target and we agree that the state legislature is not fulfilling its obligation under the commonwealth constitution, article 8, section 1, to establish and maintain a system of free, public education of high quality," Wheat read from a written statement.

Virginia ranks seventh in per capita income but 35th in spending per pupil, Wheat noted. He added that the state has underfunded the retirement system in 18 of the past 21 years and now seeks to shift the cost to the localities.

County school bus driver Shelby Middleton spoke on behalf of the system's transportation department and expressed concern over possible staff cuts in that area of the division. Middleton said the county remains short on bus drivers and further cuts could impact safety.

"As bus drivers we feel, you know, they are like are own children, so we want a safe environment for our children to be able to take to school so that they can get the education that they need," Middleton said.

More than a dozen people in the audience stood up to show their support for Middleton's statements.

"I understand the importance of education in Shenandoah County and I support whatever means are necessary to support our Shenandoah County public schools and the education our children deserve," said New Market resident Debbie Davis. "If that means an increase in our taxes then I support it if that's what we have to do. Our school system cannot tolerate another cut so please consider the budget."

Not everyone supports a pay raise for employees that comes at a cost.

"As much as anyone can appreciate a bump in pay, I must decline," said county employee Lucas Long, reading a written statement. "I struggle to reason why a raise has been brought forth and, on the flipside, layoffs are possible."

As is the practice, board members did not comment after the hearing.

Rowland before the hearing reminded board members and the audience that the Virginia General Assembly has yet to pass a biennial budget so revenue data from the state remains tentative.

The board plans to hold a work session on the proposed budget at 6 p.m. next Thursday. The board may take action on the budget at its regular meeting on March 29, Rowland said.

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