Board OKs more money for schools

WOODSTOCK — Shenandoah County supervisors decided Monday to give the School Board more money for next year.

But the $162,000 doesn’t come close to the $1.9 million the Board of Supervisors had left unfunded in the proposed fiscal 2016 budget as of last week.

Supervisors voted 4-2 at a work session to take an additional $168,000 out of savings and include the money in what the county gives to the School Board next year. Supervisors Cindy Bailey and Marsha Shruntz voted against the motion. Supervisor John R. “Dick” Neese took a long pause before voting in support of the motion with Chairman David Ferguson, Vice Chairman Conrad Helsley and Supervisor Steve Baker.

School Board Vice Chairwoman Karen Whetzel said after the work session she was pleased with the supervisors’ decision.

“I guess any amount of money is a help but it’s a long way from the $1.9 million,” Whetzel said, adding that the School Board plans to meet again to discuss the next steps.

Supervisors discussed the proposed spending plan in light of comments made at the public hearing held Thursday on the budget and the tax rates. Almost all speakers urged supervisors to fund the School Board’s request in full. Most speakers voiced support for funding a biomedical program and to expand preschool.

The board chose to give $162,000 out of the county’s unassigned fund balance or savings to the school division. Valley Health will help the School Board cover some of the cost of the biomedical program, Baker noted. The division budgeted $112,021 for preschool expansion, allowing it to receive $91,396 from the state.

The budget as proposed incorporates $5.37 million from the county’s unassigned fund balance. The county faced a $3.54 million deficit between expected revenues and proposed spending, including $2.43 million for the school division. Supervisors have agreed to take $994,023 out of the fund balance or savings to pay for the local cost of the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail. The board also agreed to let the school division have $515,087 in money left unspent in the previous budget cycle and from insurance-claim proceeds. Money allocated to the school system and not spent goes back into the county’s fund balance and the School Board must make a request for those funds in subsequent cycles.

The School Board decides how to use the money it receives from the county, Bailey noted. She said it would be up to the School Board and Superintendent Jeremy Raley which programs they would fund with the $515,087 already agreed upon by the supervisors, who also decided to give the division almost $800,000 for capital improvements.

“As far as I’m concerned we have money in there for those programs,” Bailey said, referring to the biomedical program and preschool.

Helsley and Baker said supervisors would be giving the School Board the money “on good faith” that it would be spent on the programs mentioned.

Bailey expressed concern that supervisors would be giving the money to the School Board for programs, partially funded by grants, that the division might not be able to afford to continue in subsequent years. Bailey also said there’s “no guarantee” that the School Board will spend the money on the programs. She recommended that supervisors keep the allocation at the $515,000, that the School Board prioritize its programs and forego giving salary increases.

The $515,000 includes $411,000 that had been allocated to the School Board previously, Ferguson explained. The division spent the remaining amount already with the anticipation of receiving the proceeds from an insurance claim.

Ferguson also pointed out that the division’s proposed budget, with the $515,000, will increase by 2 percent. Some other departments’ budgets will increase by a higher percent, he said.

Supervisors still must vote to adopt a tax rate and approve the entire budget, including the schools’ allocation. The budget as proposed assumes the tax rates remain unchanged. Earlier in the budget deliberations the board agreed to use money from the fund balance or savings to cover some expenses and to plug a nearly $4 million gap in expected revenue. Even with the use of savings, the budget assumes a shortfall of $118,873. The shortfall had been $168,000 but Ferguson had suggested ways to reduce that amount. Officials have said the county can likely cover that amount through increased revenue.

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