Frederick County Schools propose budget increase for 2016 fiscal year

WINCHESTER — At a Tuesday night meeting of the Frederick County School Board, Superintendent David Sovine presented a budget proposal for the 2016 fiscal year.

His proposed budget is $187.3 million, an increase of $11.8 million over the proposed budget of $175.5 million for the current school year.

The proposal would include an operating budget of $151.2 million, up from this year’s $140.5 million.

The increase for the upcoming school year includes $1.4 million it will cost the school district to “stand still;” $3 million to partially restore, rebuild and reposition support for kindergarten through 12th-grade education; and $6.3 million for a teacher and staff salary initiative.

After listening to the presentation, board member at large Stuart Wolk called the budget proposal ambitious but not unreasonable.

“Bottom line is, if we don’t advocate for this budget, who’s going to?” he asked the board. “I’m committed to fighting for as much as we can get.”

Board member Frank Wright agreed, “This budget shows what we do need. And we probably need more than we’re asking for.”

In order to stand still and maintain the standard of education in Frederick County, Sovine said the cost of wages and benefits and all division-wide utilities, services and programs will need to increase by $1.4 million to $141.9 million.

Though he admitted this and other spending increases likely would result in a rise of county taxes, he said it’s a wise investment in preserving the level of education schools have and competing with other area school divisions, namely Winchester Public Schools.

Affected by a chart Sovine included in his presentation illustrating a more than 3 percent increase of salaries for Winchester teachers over Frederick County teachers, School Board member Michael Lake wondered how Frederick County Public Schools could possibly compete.

“Ambitious employees with skills, they’re not going to ignore that,” he said. And they won’t even have to drive “over the mountain” for those jobs, he added. They’re already here in the Northern Shenandoah Valley.

“Certainly,” Sovine told the board, “this is a perfect storm.”

A declining economy forces schools to downsize staff, meaning fewer teachers will bring their skills to Frederick County, and fewer seasoned teachers will stay. Moreover, fewer teachers are entering the work force, because students are choosing more lucrative careers over ones reliant on a raise in county or city taxes. Nationwide, Sovine said, enrollments in university teacher-preparation programs have dropped about 12 percent in the last 10 years.

“But now more than ever we need the best and brightest,” he said. “… They have the power to transform lives.”

He proposed $1.1 million in the budget to staff 10 more classroom teachers, three to account for student growth of 52 countywide since the 2014 fiscal year and seven teachers for elementary school classrooms, as well as six instructional coaches and one registrar position. He proposed $1 million for technology staffing and equipment upgrades.

Also included are a summer academy to serve about 350 at-risk students in elementary and middle school, and a Capital Projects Fund request of $3.1 million to cover, in part, the replacement of several old school buses.

In 2009, Sovine pointed out, 72 of the county’s buses were less than 6 years old and only 35 buses were older than 15. Now 26 of them are considered among the newest, and 60 of them are ready to retire.

“This increase in budget is simply no surprise,” Sovine said.

The School Board will propose its budget to the Board of Supervisors in a joint meeting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at 107 N. Kent St., Winchester. The next regular School Board meeting will be at 7 p.m. Feb. 3.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com