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Posted January 25, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Warren County schools prepare for budget talks

By Kim Walter

FRONT ROYAL -- During their work session Thursday, Warren County School Board members were briefed on items to take into consideration as they enter budget season.

Robert Ballentine, the division's director of finance, described parts of the governor's budget proposal that could affect the county. He also mentioned cuts in funding the school system may have to sustain.

Ballentine brought up the governor's proposal for a 2 percent salary increase for Standards of Quality instructional positions.

"We would receive $273,000 to help fund that, but we'd have to come up with the other 40 percent," he said. "That's only for SOQ instructional positions though, and we have a lot of support staff in the county. As a board, you might want to consider not just giving a raise to one group of employees."

He noted that if the board wanted to give all school employees a raise, it would require "above and beyond" the $273,000 coming from the state.

The school system could receive a gain in funding because the average daily membership is 90 students above what was previously budgeted for. However, Ballentine said the pressure on class sizes is working against some schools, particularly at the elementary level.

"During the recession, we reduced a number of teaching positions, many of them at the elementary schools," he said. "That's catching up with us now."

While the county could get the state's "fair share" for the extra 90 students, there is a need to rebuild the teaching staff that was reduced, which would require more funding.

Another problem with needing to bring in more teachers in order to reduce class size is space.

Superintendent Pamela McInnis said that space is there at the schools that suffered teaching cuts, but those schools might not be the ones where more teachers are needed now.

"Right now, we're still just trying to restore the number of positions we lost, but some of the other schools have grown in the meantime," she said.

A number of years ago, Warren County schools received funding through the cost of competing allowance.

"We got 25 percent of the full amount of the aid," Ballentine said. "But in the governor's budget, he's proposing to eliminate the funding for support positions."

If that cut takes place, Ballentine said it could cost the county $116,000.

Additionally, the General Assembly recently conducted a study and issued a report on what counties seem to really need the aid. Ballentine said the findings suggested that funding was necessary for the counties surrounding the beltway, but "those on the fringe getting the 25 percent weren't justified."

"It wouldn't surprise me if a budget came out that eliminated the aid for us, Frederick and Clarke," he said. "If that's the case, that would cost us about $215,000."

Overall, Ballentine warned that in terms of funding, the school system won't have much, if any, additional state money.

"We might not have what we'd like to fund the initiatives that are important to us," he said. "But we'll work through it as always, and we'll come up with a budget."

Board member Roy Boyles also brought up the looming possibility of sequestration. While the substantial cuts aren't yet certain, the loss could be big for the county.

"We could stand to lose about $270,000 in federal funding because of that," Ballentine said. "We just have to be prepared for these things. It looks difficult every year, but we'll come up with a plan that works for us."

A public hearing on the school system's budget will take place in February.

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com

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