By Sally Voth -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WOODSTOCK -- Inadequately funding Shenandoah County Public Schools could lead to more than just fewer teachers, fewer extracurriculars and poorer student achievement -- it could also negatively impact the economy, Superintendent Keith Rowland told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday.
He presented the School Board's proposed $55.4 million fiscal 2013 budget during a work session with the supervisors. The School Board is asking for about a $23 million local share -- up $2.4 million from this year.
A state-mandated increase to Virginia Retirement System funding from localities accounts for about $2.7 million, Rowland said. He's asked for a 1.5 percent across-the-board pay increase for staff, who haven't had a raise in four years.
Funding from the state continues to fall, according to Rowland.
"I think we can say that our General Assembly has failed to live up to its constitutional obligation [to provide a free public education]," Rowland said.
The state is expected to kick in about $2 million more to the schools in the next fiscal year because the county's composite index was down, he said.
He said legislators take great pleasure in saying they've balanced the state budget without raising taxes. But, they've transferred the burden to localities, Rowland said.
"So, I say to the Tea Partiers and the others in the audience this evening, before you place blame on the local government board, they're only doing the things that have been forced on them by state legislators," he said. "They properly stand behind educating their children for the purpose of having a positive impact on this county's future."
Rowland warned of some of the possible consequences: Employees will face the fifth year in a row without raises; the school year could be shortened by seven days; pay could be cut for bus drivers, food service workers and instructional assistants; 12 teachers could be laid off, as well as the same number of instructional assistants; 15 bus drivers could lose their jobs; behind the wheel driver's education could no longer be offered;
employees' might have to pay for some of their health insurance premiums; there would be no more tuition assistance; and textbooks would go unordered.
"Absolutely, class sizes will increase," Rowland said. "And, believe it or not, there will be an impact on student achievement.
"It's not designed to scare you into doing anything. It's designed to keep you in the loop as to what we're facing. Investing in public schools leads to a stronger economy and a lower crime rate."
District 3 Supervisor David Ferguson said the board wouldn't be having this conversation if it weren't for the VRS mandate.
"We would be happy because our composite index went down," Rowland agreed.
Supervisors Chairman Conrad Helsley said the schools' proposed budget would take up most of the Board of Supervisors' advertised proposed real-estate tax rate increase of 6 cents per $100 of assessed value. The supervisors had stressed last week that hike was merely a "placeholder" for required advertising purposes.
"I think you advertised that before you really saw what was mandated, maybe," School Board Representative Mike Koontz said Tuesday. "If that [tax hike] is what it takes, unless you have some other magical way to come up with that, I guess I would have to support it."
Helsley said he didn't see how the tax rate could be finalized until the state has a budget passed.
Budget Manager Garland Miller presented the supervisors with proposed changes to bring the county's fiscal 2013 budget down to $53.4 million from $54.2 million -- $883,022 would be lost if the tax hike were reduced from 8 cents to 6 cents.
Not doing a reassessment would save $400,000, and hiring eight extra firefighters as opposed to 13 would save more than $280,000. Other money savers would be leaving a building department position vacant, and delaying the filling of another.