Supervisors OK School Board surplus request

FRONT ROYAL – Warren County leaders gave the School Board its leftover money with little debate Tuesday.

The Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to transfer $579,862 from the School Board’s fiscal 2014 surplus to the system’s current and next year’s budgets. Money appropriated by the supervisors to the School Board not spent in a given fiscal year goes back into the county’s general fund.

Specifically, supervisors approved the transfer of $162,395 to the fiscal 2015 School Operating Budget, $357,467 for the fiscal 2016 School Operating Budget and $60,000 for the textbook fund for books and instructional software.

Robert Ballentine, director of finance for Warren County Public Schools, spoke to supervisors about the request. The fiscal 2014 audit presented in January revealed the surplus amount, Ballentine explained.

Of the $162,395 to be transferred into the current budget, the School Board intends to use $12,395 to cover the cost of the search for a replacement for Superintendent Pamela McInnis; $125,000 as the payout of leave for custodians and a $25,000 insurance deductible the system incurred from last year’s flash flood of the maintenance building.

The School Board as of Jan. 1 contracted with a third party to provide custodial services for the division’s buildings, Ballentine said. In doing so, the custodial staff’s employment shifted from the School Board to the third party, Ballentine explained. As such, the division had to pay out the employees’ unused, accrued leave time, the cost of which totaled $125,000, Ballentine said.

Last spring a strong storm caused flooding through Front Royal and other parts of the county. The flood struck the school division’s maintenance building in town and destroyed some of the equipment. The division’s flood insurance covered all the damages minus the $25,000 deductible, Ballentine said.

The School Board intends to spend $250,000 of the $357,467 to replace some of the computer network infrastructure equipment such as switches, routers and servers. The division estimates the total replacement cost at about $1 million, Ballentine said.

The division plans to spend $92,467 on technology-related materials and supplies at the elementary, middle, alternative and career and technical education schools.

The School Board also asked for $15,000 to pay for a study that would look at employee salaries and classifications.

“I believe the county has conducted one [study] and it’s valuable to have an outside, third party come in and look,” Ballentine said. “I know we’ve talked to you about there are cases where we don’t feel we’re competitive and we’d like to bring in an outside, third party to do that study and give us recommendations for a plan that we could use.”

Supervisor Archie Fox asked Ballentine to go into more detail about the School Board’s need for another study. Salaries for teachers and other employees are not competitive with neighboring divisions, Ballentine said. A study would allow the division to create a long-term plan on how it could improve the salaries, Ballentine said. Such a plan would help the division and the county as they create their budgets. The School Board would share the results of the study given that they would need support from the supervisors to help implement the plan, Ballentine said.

But Supervisor Daniel J. Murray Jr. questioned the need to hire a firm to conduct a study.

“Why would we go outside and spend $15,000?” Murray said. “Don’t we have the ability and the talent to gather this information internally and not spend the $15,000?

“It’s not a matter of us not trusting the numbers you would give us, but it’s a matter of $15,000,” Murray added. “We probably already have most of this information at hand. I know it makes it cleaner bringing in a third party, but I think we should take a look at that.”

The division has done the work internally previously, obtaining salary scales and other data, Ballentine said. But an independent party conducting a study would have a more objective position on the topic, he said.

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