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Supervisors scrutinize school budget

By Ryan Cornell

WOODSTOCK -- Class sizes and teacher salaries were among subjects discussed at the Shenandoah County School Board's joint work session on its proposed fiscal 2015 budget with the county Board of Supervisors Thursday evening.

The proposed 2015 fiscal year school budget totals $61.9 million, a $5.5 million increase from the current budget. It asks for $3.9 million more from the county than last year.

Increasing the salaries of its teachers and staff takes up 46 percent of the budget's additional costs. If approved, the budget would raise teacher salaries in Shenandoah County to the median salary in surrounding divisions -- $40,800 for beginning teachers and $44,269 for teachers after 10 years -- plus a 2 percent raise. This would result in an average raise of 5.8 percent for teachers.

The budget also calls for a 5.4 percent salary raise among all non-instructional employees.

District 4 Supervisor Cindy Bailey questioned whether Shenandoah County should be so preoccupied with "keeping up with the Joneses" in regards to teacher pay in surrounding school divisions.

"I think that's what's gotten us in trouble is we're always constantly trying to keep up," she said. "...you can't spend more than you make and think you're going to be able to keep doing that."

At a public hearing last week, Bailey urged Superintendent Jeremy Raley to present a balanced budget without any increases to the Board of Supervisors

David Ferguson, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, asked Raley what would happen if the fiscal 2015 budget remained the same as the current year's budget.

Raley warned that if the proposed budget, which he repeatedly referred to as a "needs-based approach," is not funded, it would result in a loss of qualified teachers and greater needs in future years.

"If a balanced budget means these things are not funded, over time we will see a deterioration of services, we'll see a deterioration of facilities, we'll see our talented staff leaving us," he said.

Hiring new instructional personnel and teachers makes up 14 percent of additional costs. Raley said that to receive $400,000 in state funding, classes in kindergarten through third grade need to provide class sizes below 24 students. The budget would hire two teachers at W.W. Robinson Elementary and one teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary, two schools Raley said are currently at more than 100 percent capacity.

He said enrollment numbers in Shenandoah County public schools have remained stagnant.

Ferguson asked why the costs are up if the number of students is projected to stay the same.

Raley said they have increased as the costs of goods and services have increased.

"You still have to transport the same amount of students," he said. "The cost of diesel fuel has gone up, the cost of a pencil has increased, the cost of any service we contract with has gone up, like anything in our world around us."

He noted a $1 million increase in state-mandated benefits for next year, including added costs for the Virginia Retirement System for the employer.

The School Board meets for a work sessions at 5 p.m. Tuesday and 6 p.m. March 20 before the budget is approved by the supervisors on March 27.

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com

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