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Shenandoah County school budget goes to county supervisors

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Keith Rowland

$55M spending plan includes salary hike for system workers

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

WOODSTOCK -- Shenandoah County schools' proposed fiscal 2013 budget could face a tough sell with the Board of Supervisors.

The School Board at its meeting Thursday voted 5-0 to approve Superintendent B. Keith Rowland's spending plan which he plans to present to supervisors on Tuesday. The superintendent noted his proposal would fall under supervisors' sharp scrutiny in the weeks to come.

"It's no different than anywhere else," Rowland said. "They'll come back with what they feel like they can afford to give us."

The $55 million budget as proposed includes a request for $23.04 million in local funding -- an increase of $2.4 million over the amount the system received for the current fiscal year, according to Rowland. Rowland's budget also includes a 1.5 percent salary increase for system employees and other initiatives.

But as the superintendent explained, if supervisors don't approve a county budget that includes the funding amount as Rowland requests, then the school board must revisit its spending plan and adjust.

The proposed budget includes $2.7 million to cover the mandated 5 percent increase the school system must pay into the Virginia Retirement System. The amount includes funding for a 5 percent salary increase to employees which immediately disappears with the 5 percent charge passed on to workers as required by the state.

"That is one of the critical things that we need the media to help us with to make sure that the message gets out that employees are not getting a 5 percent raise," Rowland said. "They're getting 5 percent but they're also paying out 5 percent. ... And it's really not a wash because, in order to keep employees from losing money, you actually have to give them a 5.7 percent salary increase."

The system must spend additional funds to cover Social Security taxes and other costs associated with the VRS increase, Rowland explained.

The superintendent explained that if the supervisors don't approve the school budget as requested, the system, under the state mandate, can spread out the 5 percent VRS increase over several years. Doing so would reduce the spending burden on the next fiscal budget.

But paying the 5 percent all at once fulfills the requirement in one fiscal year. Rowland noted that employees hired after July 1 have to pay 5 percent more regardless of which amount the system implements in the next year.

School officials across the state must wait for the Virginia General Assembly to approve a biennial budget which gives localities a better idea of how much the state plans to fund education. Rowland crafted his spending plan based on Gov. Bob McDonnell's proposed budget.

"That certainly has not been approved, so it's not real clear right now," Rowland said. "There are some signs that they may be moving forward, albeit at a snail's pace."

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