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Shenandoah supervisors discuss taxes, school budget

By Alex Bridges

WOODSTOCK -- Superintendent B. Keith Rowland presented his proposed fiscal 2014 budget to the Board of Supervisors at its regular meeting Tuesday. He asked for more money that county officials say can only come with higher taxes.

On Monday, the School Board approved a budget that calls for $1.2 million in additional local funding. Those funds would to toward pay raises, implementation of certain programs and a 10-percent increase in health insurance costs.

As Rowland talked about the school system's financial needs, some supervisors made comments in support of a proposed increase in some tax rates. At a work session after the regular meeting, some supervisors said they would rather wait until the county holds a public hearing on the proposed budget to comment further on the proposed tax increases.

The county's proposed fiscal 2014 budget calls for a 6-cent increase in the real estate tax rate from 51 cents to 57 cents per $100 of assessed value. A 35-cent increase in the personal property tax rate as proposed would bring the levy to $3.50 per $100.

The school system would receive the extra revenue collected from 3.5 cents of the proposed real estate tax increase with the remainder going to the county, officials said.

Supervisor Sharon Baroncelli, in discussing the 6-cent real estate tax increase, said they are hearing from the public that "they don't want a tax increase at all."

"What would the school system do if the citizens of the county come back and say 'no tax increase'?" she asked, and added that some who don't support tax increases still want a 2-percent pay raise for teachers.

"What's the fallback?" Baroncelli asked Rowland.

Rowland told the board he likely would have to eliminate several programs from the proposed budget should the county not give the system the $1.2 million as requested. The School Board then may have to look at cutting or freezing personnel positions.

The state is offering the school division more than $371,000 to give pay raises to positions related to standards of quality, if the county can provide a match. The school board didn't want to give a raise to just those employees and not the rest.

Without funding, the county may not be able to bolster school security, Rowland warned.

"I can tell you that's not what the citizen wants," Rowland said. "Now they may say they don't want a tax increase, but I can tell they've come to expect those SROs [school resource officers] being in the buildings."

Baroncelli asked Rowland if School Board members support a tax rate increase.

"They approved this budget with that understanding, I believe," Rowland said.

Chairman Conrad Helsley asked Rowland about approved legislation that creates a letter-grading system for schools. Grades don't tell the whole story of a school division, such as bus transportation, breakfast and lunch, dual enrollment classes or counseling services, Rowland responded.

"All the other things that we do that people don't realize we do aren't factors anymore," Rowland said.

Rowland noted that superintendents across the state opposed this measure. Superintendents asked state delegates and senators to oppose the change, but they didn't, he noted.

"Basically, it's all about what you score on tests, and I think there's more to what we do than just what we score on tests. But we have a governor who believes we need to be like Florida and Louisiana," Rowland said.

"I can tell you Virginia doesn't want to be like Florida and Louisiana. We're already way ahead of Florida and Louisiana."

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com


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