Board to discuss improvements

WOODSTOCK — Budgeting funds for the coming school year isn’t as easy as determining what schools need the most.

When the Shenandoah County School Board asked area principals and department heads to list their top three priorities concerning personnel and programs, they responded with more than $5 million of needs. Many needs were considered last year, said Superintendent Jeremy Raley. The projects were removed from the budget because there wasn’t enough money to fund them.

“As staff we have been working to prioritize and triage, and certainly that process is not finished,” Raley told the School Board at its Jan. 8 work session.

Last year, more than $971,000 was cut from the 2014-15 budget, Raley said.

“What do we spend our money on right now?” he asked board members. “This is important because our main goal is student opportunity and achievement, it’s instruction, it’s teaching and learning.”

At two upcoming work sessions planned for 6 p.m. Jan. 22 and 7 p.m. Jan. 29, the School Board will discuss how it might allot funds to meet the many needs county schools have for the 2015-16 school year. Discussions at the first work session will include salary scales for teachers and other school staff.

Needs not funded for the current school year include three of five teachers requested last year for English Language Learner classes, instructional materials, school supplies and building maintenance.

Schools have requested musical instruments to replace aging ones, calculators for math students and funding to reincorporate cursive writing into area schools — an effort Raley said would have been added sooner if schools had the funds.

“This is a holistic picture of all the things we need to consider going forward,” Raley told the board.

High school band students are wearing 20-year-old uniforms, he said. “I’m told one of our students who is in the Central High School band has holes in her pants like many others, but you can’t see them because she wears black leggings underneath them.”

“We have more than 40 students with disabilities this year than we had last year,” Raley said. Even if the district hires two new special education teachers, he said that only gives the special education program a student/teacher ratio of 21 to 1.

Last fall, W.W. Robinson Elementary School in Woodstock was classified a focus school following its lower-than-average results on Standards of Learning tests over the last three years. To help improve student achievement, teachers and staff need resources.

The nursing assistant program at Triplett Tech in Mount Jackson has been funded directly through a short term commitment by Valley Health, Raley said, but “those dollars are now gone.”

Shenandoah County’s dual enrollment program offers more advanced education for high school students, he said, but with greater funding more students could participate.

“In fact, we charge our students 50 percent of tuition costs,” he said. “We may be potentially the only school division in the state that does that, so what would it take for us to be able to reduce that cost?”

Responding to Raley’s presentation, board members considered significant cuts that schools have made over the last eight years, but Board Chairman Richard Koontz Jr. cautioned against funding programs that might be outdated.

“We don’t have those same needs today,” he said.

But board member Kathryn Holsinger addressed potential “naysayers” who might question funding improvements the school system might make to programs paused for several years.

“We cut it to survive,” she said.

The board plans to present its recommendations for a budget at its Feb. 19 public meeting and vote for a budget following a work session on March 19.

“We can’t just stay the same,” Raley said. “If we’re not improving, we’re going backwards.”

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or