Shenandoah School Board discusses budget needs

Karen Whetzel

WOODSTOCK – The Shenandoah County School Board discussed the fiscal year 2016-2017 budget at Thursday night’s work session.

The School Board has proposed an operating budget of $64,087,509, an increase of $3.6 million over last year’s budget of $60,482,925.

Chairwoman Karen Whetzel said this meeting was the seventh budget meeting the board has had, beginning with the Jan. 14 work session.

“We’ve done a lot of work,” she said.

Cynthia Page, director of finance, called the budget a needs-based budget, with items showing up on the proposed budget year after year.

Katheryn Freakley

She said that of the $3.6 million, $2,642,379 will be requested from the locality.

She also noted that they are “anticipating a million dollar increase in our state aid, a small reduction in our federal aid, and very small change in our other revenues.”

A major talking point among board members on the proposed budget was equitably aligning resources in all the schools.

Whetzel said, “I’ve heard some people say that these are costs of adjusting the boundaries, but to me these are equity things. These are not all things that are a result of the boundaries.”

Board member Katheryn Freakley added, “Every budget process that I have been a part of the School Board has presented a needs-based budget. Had those needs been funded previously, these resources wouldn’t be as great, because they would already be a part of our existing budget, our existing resources. This isn’t necessarily a boundary issue; these resources don’t have to be funded to proceed with the boundary. This is because the budget hasn’t been funded for quite some time adequately enough to provide these resources.”

Richard Koontz

Page also presented another update to the board, since their last meeting, on the support of the biomedical program.

“Valley Health has committed to support our biomedical program for the second year. We had a grant from them for this year and they agreed to continue,” she said.

Valley Health has agreed to pay $21,961 for the program if it is continued next year.

This will result in a slight reduction of the funding that will be asked of the locality, she added.

Whetzel said she continues to hear good things about the program and is in favor of continuing it.

Freakley added that she attended the Biomedical Expo where students explained what they have learned in the program.

“The professionalism was first-rate, knowledge base blew me away. It was just top notch and this is very good news,” she said.

Superintendent Jeremy Raley added that the program is a great partnership and is a “jewel for us to provide these experiences for children.”

Whetzel also recognized a safety concern with the aging buses and the special education vans that are transporting students to and from school on a daily basis.

“I really think it is a priority to have those extra buses and white fleet vehicles because I know we just learned this week that we don’t have any spares left,” she said, “And I know as vehicles get older, things happen, even if we keep them well maintained.”

Board Vice Chairman R.L. “Rick” Koontz said that textbooks are another concern and noted that social studies classes are due for new instructional resources.

Page added that it has been about seven years since these resources have been funded.

Whetzel also said that with increased Standards of Learning requirements, the current resources may not be adequate for what is demanded of students.

The programs offered at Triplett Tech were also lauded by the board as a benefit to students as they learn skills to enter the workforce right away.

Koontz said, “There’s been a lot of discussion there and I think there’s a lot of support for that out in the community.”

Freakley agreed that Triplett Tech is an asset to the community where students can learn trade skills in Shenandoah County.

“I’m hoping that through (the) long-term facilities plan we can get a good look at that and evaluate how we can grow it, make it bigger, and service more kids. It really is so important to our particular area that it needs to be big,” she said.

Raley said that a possible addition to the curriculum next year is a cyber security class.

Another need that the board would like to have properly funded is the maintenance department.

Board member Irving Getz said that maintenance should be a priority as custodians are having trouble keeping up with maintaining the aging infrastructure. He cited failing roofs as an example of a need that should be funded.

With all the meetings on the budgets and public comments on how the budget should be used, board member Cynthia Walsh said that many people don’t know how little the funded budget is able to go.

“The people that I talk to when I travel around can’t believe how little we operate on. It’s just so frustrating,” she said.

The board will vote on the proposed budget on March 10. Then the budget will be presented to the Board of Supervisors for consideration.

Upcoming meetings:
• March 2 work session at 6 p.m., followed by the public hearing on boundary adjustment recommendations at 7:30 p.m. in the W.W. Robinson cafeteria.

• March 10 work session at 5 p.m., followed by a closed session at 6:30 p.m.. The regular public meeting will be held at 7 p.m.

All meetings are open to the public, except for closed sessions.

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com