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Warren County schools face potential budget deficit

By Kim Walter

FRONT ROYAL -- The Warren County School Board has learned that its preliminary fiscal year 2014 budget presents a deficit of around $400,000 that does not include added positions and non-labor requests.

Robert Ballentine, director of finance for the school system, gave an update at the board's Thursday night work session as to how the General Assembly's approved budget would affect them. He said he thinks the division could receive about $102,000 more in state revenue than originally planned.

Ballentine said the number wasn't definite, but said that was the good news in dealing with the budget. However, most of the increase from the commonwealth is due to the proposed 2 percent salary raise for standards of quality employees.

In putting together the projected federal revenue, Ballentine said he didn't include cuts that could come from sequestration. Without the across-the-board cuts, the division would lose $240,428 for the education jobs fund, bringing proposed federal funding to $2,266,891.

"It's sounding like some level of sequestration is going to happen," Ballentine told the board. "But, if it's only 5 percent across-the-board cut, we'll lose about $127,000, compared to losing $170,000 if there's an 8 percent cut."

If the division decides not to request any additional appropriations from the county and keep the level of local funding at $20,130,868, then there could be an overall revenue increase of $483,304.

Ballentine repeated, though, that about half of that is for the salary increase, and it also includes some line items that were transferred.

To provide the 2 percent salary increase -- as well as an increase in contributions to the Federal Insurance Contributions Act tax, Virginia Retirement System, Retiree Health Credit and Group Life Insurance -- the school system will have to dole out $41,561,791, Ballentine said.

"Salaries and benefits are usually about 80 percent of our budget, so don't be too alarmed by that number," he said.

A little more than $8 million in expenditures was funded for the school system's non-labor budget in fiscal year 2013, so Ballentine used the same number for the fiscal year 2014 budget.

That brings the total preliminary required expenditures to $49,608,814, he said, resulting in a $404,160 deficit.

As the board flipped to the final page of Ballentine's presentation, which outlined looming deficits, board member Joanne Cherefko noted, "Well, this is a bit of a downer,"

The board also looked at requests for instructional and administrative positions, some of which had been cut a few years ago when funding was tight. The cost would be more than $1.5 million if all the requested positions were approved.

Division staff also met with school and department leaders to find out their non-labor requests, which include maintenance, equipment replacement, testing fees, increased fuel costs and additional wireless access. The total of those requests is $608,502.

"This is where we start every year," said Superintendent Pamela McInnis. "This is when I need to hear from you what your priorities are so we can start working through this."

Board members stood by four initiatives that they have supported since the beginning of budget discussions: decreasing class sizes, especially at the elementary school level; trying to fill vacant instructional positions; making teacher salaries and benefits more competitive; providing up-to-date classroom materials.

"Those are the four most important things, as far as I'm concerned," McInnis said.

The board voted to hold a special budget work session at 6 p.m. Thursday, so that a final budget can be approved at its March 14 meeting. By then, Ballentine said he hopes to have a more definite state and federal budget.

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


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