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County denies schools' request for money it saved

By Alex Bridges

WOODSTOCK - Shenandoah County schools can't use money the system has saved to help fund next year's budget.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted 3-3 on a request by schools Superintendent Jeremy Raley to give the system $672,426 not spent out of the fiscal 2013 budget also referred to as carryover funds. The motion failed as a result of the tie vote.

Supervisors Cindy Bailey, Marsha Shruntz and John R. "Dick" Neese voted against the motion. Supervisor Steve Baker, Vice Chairman Conrad Helsley and Chairman David Ferguson voted in favor of re-appropriating the school's savings to the system.

The motion did not include specific direction on how the system should spend the money, but opponents of the measure said they wanted the funds to cover capital projects and not operational costs.

The school system must ask permission of the county to spend any previously allocated but unspent funds. The School Board now must revisit the system's fiscal 2015 budget and deduct the $672,426 from its approved spending plan, Raley said after the meeting. The school board also must reduce its fiscal 2015 budget by an additional $1.1 million because the county adopted a lower tax rate on real estate than proposed, thus decreasing the amount of money expected to go to the education system.

"At the end of the day, I would say it's all county money," Raley said. "Certainly you've got to draw a dividing line sometime."

County Administrator Mary T. Price said the requested amount reverts to the county's general fund. The board must still approve any request to spend the money on other county-related needs.

Ferguson asked several times if any member wanted to make another motion related to the request. Baker asked if supervisors could table the request so they could discuss the matter and bring it back to a future meeting. Shruntz said she didn't see that as a necessary step.

County Attorney J. Jay Litten said that supervisors can move to let the school system spend the money as it sees fit. Supervisors also could include in the motion that it wanted the School Board to spend the money on one or more specific purposes.

The school system in past years has used its savings for a variety of needs, such as capital improvements and land purchase for schools, Raley said. Last fiscal year supervisors agreed to give the school system carryover money to cover security improvements at some of its buildings.

Bailey added that she wanted Raley to provide quarterly updates on the school system's efforts to complete its capital projects. Bailey has criticized the School Board in the past for not making repairs to its aging buildings.

Raley concurred with Ferguson that requiring the school system to use the $672,000 for capital costs would significantly affect its operations budget. Raley said he felt the system could best use the money to cover operational costs and even if directed to spend the funds on capital projects the amount would not pay for all those needs.

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

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