Supervisors hear from school officials over spending

WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah County Public School officials tried on Tuesday to educate supervisors and dispel misconceptions about the division’s spending.

Superintendent Jeremy Raley and Director of Finance Cynthia F. Page gave a presentation to the Board of Supervisors to explain accounting controls, the budget versus what the division actually spends and carries over, and spending on pupils, facilities and capital projects.

Supervisors Cindy Bailey and Marsha Shruntz voiced skepticism over the division’s spending even after the presentation. Bailey and Shruntz questioned why the division plans to spend money to hire a consultant to conduct a study on overcrowding in at least two of the county schools.

A space committee formed to look at overcrowding failed to come to a consensus on any potential solutions so the School Board recently decided to issue a request for proposals from consultants interested in studying the matter. Sandy Hook and W.W. Robinson elementary schools remain over capacity, Page said. However, when asked by Shruntz how the School Board plans to pay for the study, Page said they would use money from the $797,000 supervisors allocated for urgent, capital improvement needs. The decision to take money from the allocation came after supervisors approved the county budget including funding for the school system.

The division needs “expert direction” from architects or engineers on how to solve the space problem, Page said.

Shruntz remained critical.

“I’d like to suggest that your priorities are not in the right order,” Shruntz said.

“Well, you are welcome to suggest that,” Page replied.

Supervisor Steve Baker commented that he saw, first hand, some of the problems experienced at the schools when he recently toured some of the facilities.

But, as Bailey noted, the $797,000 was to go to replace boilers, roofs and to address other capital needs. School officials should set aside money for a study separate from the allocated funds, Bailey said.

Bailey also suggested that the School Board should look at redistricting for the county and to shift more students from the central area to the southern end. Raley explained that redistricting comes with its own issues and is not an easy fix.

“The School Board has recognized that this is a complex situation and there is no easy solution so they are seeking the assistance of an outside, third party,” Raley said.

The School Board approved the scope of the request for proposals at its May 6 meeting, Raley said. The School Board decided at the meeting that the study is related to capital needs and the division would pay for the consultant out of the $797,000, Raley said.

“The Board also said that they would consider keeping you all involved and keeping you all in the loop and potentially ask for those dollars potentially in the future … ,” Raley said. “That was a decision they made and there was a sense of urgency and the School Board recognizes that there is a problem and wants to do something about it now, and that’s why they’ve set a very aggressive timetable.”

The School Board wants to have a short-term solution in place by the fall 2016, Raley said. The superintendent noted that any solution would cost money.

Supervisors Chairman David Ferguson commented that his board has over the years not given the school division its requested funding for capital projects because of the bad economy and in an effort to minimize tax increases.

During the public comment section of the meeting, a handful of people spoke in support of the school division. Members of the School Board and supporters of the new group, Parents Alliance for Strong Schools, made up most of the audience.

In response, Bailey said she wanted to dispel a “myth” that supervisors cut the School Board’s budget. Bailey said that the School Board chooses how to spend the money the county allocates to the division, Bailey said. Ferguson also cleared up this myth at a meeting of the supervisors and school officials, Bailey recalled.

“If a program is cut, it’s because [the School Board] decided not to fund that program,” Bailey said. “It’s about accountability.”

Ferguson saw the situation differently.

“I, as a member of this board have cut your budget,” Ferguson said. “I don’t think I’ve ever given you what you wanted. You’ve given a proposed budget, year after year, and I have voted to cut it. It isn’t you that cut it.”

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