School Board discusses operational budget

WOODSTOCK – The Shenandoah County School Board discussed growing operational costs at a work session on Thursday night.

Superintendent Jeremy Raley said the budget needs to reflect the needs of the school division and this includes many operational costs.

“This is something we’ve had in the last few years and we were able to provide some minimal resources to it in the current year, but there’s still a need,” he said.

Technology technicians is a personnel need that is required to handle the problems that arise as more devices are added to the classrooms.

Raley said that the technology staff has remained at seven for over 15 years, but the number of devices is increasing each year.

He added that the average number of days it takes for current staff to respond to requests has consistently remained at 10 or more days.

“That’s two full weeks of instruction,” he said about the amount of time teachers are going without technology in the classroom when a technical problem arises.

Network infrastructure is a related operational need that has come about as the network equipment is aging.

“Without the improvements that we need, we’re going to be in gridlock,” he said, “We are going to be in situations where we won’t have the support behind the scenes when things go down, and with that comes frustration.”

The wireless hardware will reach its “end of life” on June 30. Also, the copper wiring in the schools is over 20 years old.

The textbook resources budget is also a concern as books will need to be ordered this summer for social studies classes.

The 2015-2016 book budget was cut $143,068. This has limited the books the division has been able to purchase, Raley said.

He added that the amount needed to restore the budget and meet the 2016-2017 request is $155,719.

Custodial support is also needed, since county schools are below the recommended number of the custodial staff that should be in each school.

“Many departments and many aspects of our operations were impacted by the cuts we had to make in the economic downturn,” he said. “But one of the aspects that was most hardly hit was our custodial staff.”

In the 2006-2007 school year there were 50 custodial staff; this year there are only 40.25.

This reduction has created safety concerns and more work that needs to be done with a growing student population in the schools.

One proposed solution is a hybrid bus driver and custodian positions. Raley said that this position would allow bus drivers to work as custodial staff in the schools in the afternoon when they aren’t driving the students to and from school.

Along with custodial needs, are maintenance department needs.

Raley said that the division needs to restore the 2010-2011 funding reduction, as well as fund preventative maintenance programs.

Maintenance needs include roofing repairs, which are estimated to cost $100,000 to “get us to where we need to be,” as well as new custodial equipment.

Service contracts with outside contractors also need to be renewed for security and grass cutting.

The maintenance staff also need seven new lawn mowers and new snow removal equipment as current equipment is held together by duct tape.

Transportation needs were also a topic of discussion at the meeting.

Staffing is a growing concern as school bus drivers are needed and retention is a growing problem.

There have been 285 bus driver applicants since 2006, he said, but only 21 stayed as Shenandoah County Public Schools bus drivers.

New buses are also needed as current buses reach the end of their life and growing maintenance repairs are needed.

Raley added that 30 of the division’s buses are over 15 years old.

New buses would provide increased safety and additional space, he said.

Along with school bus needs, special education vehicles are also needed to transport the special education students to and from their schools, which may be in other counties.

After operational needs were discussed, the board spoke on other needs in the division, such as recruiting.

Raley said the division is facing a limited talent pool and a 14 percent turnover rate.

Turnover is expensive, board member Katheryn Freakley pointed out. Retaining staff will save the division money in the long run with successful recruiting.

Another need is for better time and attendance tracking.

Raley said that some of the division’s staff still use paper and pencil timesheets, which require two to three days per month to process, and this method can lead to accuracy issues.

As boundaries options are being considered in the coming weeks, staffing issues have arisen as students will be sent to new schools.

More staff will be needed because more students will be sent to the southern campus.

Raley said that North Fork Middle School will need a full-time librarian and will need to convert the current 10-month intern assistant principal position to a 12-month position.

Programs will also need to be added to schools as boundaries are adjusted and students will need to be provided equitable programs at each of the campuses.

Raley said there will need to be an increase in drama at Signal Knob Middle School, as well as an increase in art, drama and technology classes at North Fork Middle School.

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