By Ryan Cornell
WOODSTOCK -- Area residents got their chance to discuss the proposed fiscal 2015 budget for Shenandoah County Public Schools at a public hearing on Wednesday evening.
The budget proposal, which totals $61,873,208, calls for a $5.5-million increase from the current year's budget. Division Superintendent Jeremy Raley is requesting $3.9 million more from the county than last year.
Several speakers described the budget as "needs-based" and supported proposed staff salary raises.
Connie Fravel, a reading specialist at Sandy Hook Elementary, said teachers should receive a step increase in the salary scale every year regardless whether raises are given to keep Shenandoah County competitive with surrounding school divisions
"As [interim superintendent] Dr. Castner said a few months ago, do we view the education of our children as a tax burden or as an investment in our future?" she said.
Woodstock resident Bev Harrison agreed.
"I'm a low-income single parent and it's not always easy for me to pay my taxes, but I would gladly support an increase in taxes and tighten my budget and find money for that."
Jan Orndorff said that for a number of years as a teacher she was told not to ask for raises because the money wasn't there. She supported the proposed budget.
"Utility companies went and asked for rate increases and even though I wasn't supposed to ask for salary increases, I paid those rate increases," she said. "A lot of other people are asking for what they need. I just want to say 'Thank you, Dr. Raley' for asking what we need."
Seth Coffman of Edinburg said he also supported the fixed payscales in addition to the implementation of STEM classes and higher bandwidth.
Woodstock resident Rich Walker expressed concerns about the school system's management. He said that the price quoted recently by the school division to produce salary data for a Freedom of Information Act request is damaging to the division's reputation of being transparent and communicative.
"If you're understaffed or they're underpaid, it would seem that such a list would be able to say, 'Hey, here it is, this is why we're understaffed. This is why we say we're underpaid,'" he said.
District 4 Supervisor Cindy Bailey requested that salary data but was not supported by the other supervisors. She said Wednesday night that the School Board should bring a balanced budget without any increases to the county Board of Supervisors.
"Then we can sit down and discuss any additional spending you are asking for," she said. "I will be asking the county administrator to do the same."
Bailey hazarded against raising the county's tax rate and said the board needs to rearrange its priority list.
"I saw $50,000 toward maintenance in the upcoming budget, but millions for salary increases," she said. "We cannot afford to increase taxes on any of our citizens, especially our businesses"
Maurertown resident Gerald Talley said the proposed 5.4-percent salary increase among non-instructional staff clashes with the 1 percent increase in pay among federal employees and 1.5 percent increase among Social Security recipients that he had read about.
Following the public hearing, Raley said the School Board will meet with the Board of Supervisors on Thursday.
"That's a work session so I don't know what will be the result of that, but it will be an opportunity to have a conversation with both boards present at that time," he said.
The board will revisit the budget in a March 11 work session. Final approval of the budget is expected on March 27.
Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org