By Kim Walter
WOODSTOCK -- During its Monday budget work session, the Shenandoah County School Board voted to support a number of initiatives, but struggled to find departments and programs that could sustain fiscal cuts.
A 2 percent salary increase is currently included for Standards of Quality public school teachers in Gov. Bob McDonnell's budget. If approved, Shenandoah County would receive $302,966.
However, the board members were all in favor of providing a 2 percent raise to all employees, which would cost $815,055. The majority did not support an additional 1 percent on top of the 2 percent, though, as it would require more than $400,000 in funding.
Another part of the budget could go toward paying 100 percent of employee-only health insurance at a $1,000 deductible, which would cost $414,420. Again, the board voted in favor of the initiative.
The school division's staff proposed requesting some funds for new textbooks, mostly for science classes, at a cost of $175,000.
Board member Karen Whetzel said other subjects are certainly important, but science SOLs were recently changed.
"This is a subject where new information is always coming out, so it's important that the textbooks are up to date," she said.
New certified nursing assistant and emergency medical technician training programs were also supported, requiring slightly more than $30,000.
Two initiatives concerning pay rates for school bus drivers were supported by a majority of school board members. One item would increase the daily pay for substitute bus drivers from $49.06 to $73.22, which would cost $38,560 in total.
Gary Rutz, chairman of the School Board, voted against the item. He said he was in favor of some type of pay increase, but not the proposed amount.
An increase in the hourly pay rate for driving to extracurricular activities from $9.54 to $15.27 was also supported.
Reasoning for the increase came from wanting to avoid a reduction in pay for current drivers, and that it might be an incentive for full time drivers to take the trips.
Rutz asked if there was any way to cut back on the number of trips or vehicles used in the county.
"It just seems like if someone wants to go somewhere, then they go. The word 'no' never comes into play, and I know it can't come into play sometimes," he said. "I'm just trying to find areas where we can reduce our expenditures."
Board members raised concern over the fact that funding maintenance on some of the school buses had to come out of the operational funds, instead of capital improvement funds.
Superintendent B. Keith Rowland said maintenance is "always a concern" for the school division, but since there hasn't been a capital improvements budget for some time, funds to make fixes to schools and vehicles have to come from the operating budget, or whatever is left in the fund balance.
The school system had a fund balance of less than $300,000, but the Board of Supervisors recently set aside a large portion of it to help fund school safety initiatives.
Rowland said several years ago that the division's fund balance was often anywhere from $800,000 to $1 million, and that "no one should have a fund balance as small as yours at the end of the year."
Board member Kathryn Holsinger thanked the maintenance department for helping the school system "manage" without being able to make all the necessary improvements, but was still worried with where funding came from.
"We are continuing to make what are truly capital improvement purchases from our operating budget," she said. "We can't let the roof fall in, so what do we do?"
Rowland reminded board members that more cuts could come from federal and state funds, but much remains undecided pending approval of a final budget.
The board also voted to support two initiatives brought up by its members -- an additional stipend of $2,500 for national board certified teachers totaling $15,201, and increasing the daily pay rate for all three categories of substitute teachers by $5.
While it wasn't supported by a vote, board members chose to do more research on funding the hiring of teaching positions that were lost a few years ago due to cut-backs. The original proposed item called for 20 teachers, which would cost more than $1.2 million.
Board members thought some positions should be brought back, but couldn't support such a high financial cost. The research hopefully will decrease the number of positions that are truly needed at this point in time, after which the board might vote in favor of the associated funding.
A budget presentation will take place at a 5 p.m. March 14 meeting in the county board room.
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org