School Board, supervisors discuss budget, salary increases

FRONT ROYAL – At a Tuesday meeting with county supervisors, the Warren County School Board discussed plans of making staff and teacher salaries a priority.

Speaking about the school district’s proposed 2016 fiscal year budget, Superintendent Pam McInnis defended the importance of stabilizing mid-range pay scales in order to attract and retain quality talent.

What used to be a competitive market in Warren County has fallen in recent years, she said, as other districts have begun paying better. The problem particularly affects teachers who have worked for the county from 10 to 20 years. As near as Frederick County, she said, those teachers can make $2,000 to $6,000 more.

“We don’t have what we call regular salary scales anymore,” McInnis said.

School Board Vice Chair Roy Boyles agreed, calling good teachers the district’s most important asset.

But anticipating starting off the new fiscal year with $456,000 less in state funding than the county had this year — due greatly to the expectation of 73 fewer students next year — Director of Finance Robert Ballentine said School Board members should take that into consideration when presenting its budget in a public hearing on Feb. 26.

Acknowledging the expected decrease as not very helpful, McInnis expressed confidence that School Board members and supervisors can come to an agreement.

Warren County is the envy of other communities because of the ability of its schools and county officials to work so well together in recent years, she said.

“I think we’ve worked extremely hard to make that happen,” she said. “We remember ugly, and it was ugly. And we don’t want it to be ugly anymore.”

The new middle school, expected to open in fall 2017, will cost the school district an estimated $1,569,783 in teacher and staff salaries, according to materials provided at the meeting.

Additionally, supervisors discussed the county’s capital improvement plan for the next five years, which County Administrator Doug Stanley explained was adopted last year.

The plan, totaling $47,122,550 for the 2015 fiscal year, includes county contributions to construction plans for the new middle school — a projected cost of $23,297,330 this year.

Another $7,000 is slotted for next year, with the remaining $22,945,466 deriving from interest from debt service.

The five-year projection of capital improvements totals $106,501,953, with $99,964,530 from county contributions and the rest from debt service interest. It includes two completed projects — $210,000 paid this year for the completed Rockland Park playground and $200,000 to be paid in 2019 for the Transportation Department roof replacement.

“We are making some progress,” Stanley said.

But he pointed out that although the new middle school ranked 10th on the county’s priorities of capital improvements, other school projects were prioritized higher.

Renovations of $8,513,429 for Ressie Jeffries Elementary School and $2,536,210 for a new roof and HVAC improvements to A.S. Rhodes Elementary School are both higher priorities. Neither project has been started or is expected to be completed in 2015.

McInnis said zoning for the middle school has been approved and that the board expects to vote on a design next month before approving bids for construction.

The School Board will meet at 7 p.m. Feb. 26 in the County Government Center meeting room at 201 N. Commerce Ave, Front Royal, and include a public hearing to discuss the 2016 fiscal year budget. A work session will start at 6 p.m. In the event the public meeting is canceled due to inclement weather, the public hearing will be held at a meeting on the following Thursday.

The Board of Supervisors will meet at 7 p.m. Feb. 24.

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