Funding request scrutinized

WOODSTOCK – The Shenandoah County School Board didn’t waiver Thursday on its request for more local money in next year’s budget despite a pending shortfall.

The Board of Supervisors met with school officials at a work session to discuss the proposed funding for education. District 4 Supervisor Cindy Bailey had requested the work session with the School Board and Superintendent Jeremy Raley so both bodies could talk about the spending requests.

The School Board requested an additional $2.6 million in local funds in the fiscal 2017 budget. The School Board proposed a total budget of $64.08 million that would include $27.76 million in local funding.

While the Board of Supervisors controls how much local funding the county allocates for education, it cannot dictate exactly how the School Board spends the money. That has not stopped some supervisors from questioning specific line items and spending priorities in the School Board’s proposed budgets.

Supervisors Steve Baker and John R. “Dick” Neese made no comments during the two hour meeting. Baker has said in the past that supervisors should leave it up to the School Board to manage the money the county allocates.

The School Board typically adopts a proposed budget that calls for increased spending on either operations or one-time projects regardless of reports that show the county faces revenue shortfalls.

“Going into this … budget process knowing that numbers are down and knowing that every year you’re not getting the funding, the local funding that you’re asking for, OK, what in your budget are you going to be able to cut or not fund when you don’t get local funding for this?” Bailey asked Raley.

“Not knowing what the ultimate decision is from your standpoint – the board adopted what they felt is needed in our budget for the FY17 fiscal year and so they haven’t had any conversations about reductions … If we are faced with reductions, the board will have to make some very difficult decisions and they haven’t talked about that,” Raley said.

Some school officials accused Bailey and District 3 Supervisor Richard Walker of attempting to micromanage the School Board’s spending. But Walker warned school officials more than once that the county will not have enough money to fulfill the School Board’s request. Bailey pointed out that the county used almost $800,000 in reserves in the current budget to help the School Board cover expenses and to balance its spending plan.

The recent real estate reassessments showed values fell overall and, at the current tax rate of 57 cents per $100 of assessed value, the county can expect to see revenue reduced by about $650,000 in the current fiscal period. The county would need to increase the rate by about 3 cents to 60 cents per to make up for a projected shortfall of $1.3 million in fiscal 2017. At the current tax rate, each penny generates approximately $430,000. The county would need to increase the rate by an additional 6 cents to 64.5 cents to generate the revenue needed to cover the extra $2.6 million as requested.

Walker asked the School Board and Raley to prioritize their requests. Raley said at the end of the meeting that he wouldn’t want to do that.

School Board Chairwoman Karen Whetzel earlier pointed to their proposed budget and said all the items are priorities.

The discussion about the budget became heated a few times. School Board member Katheryn Freakley asked Walker if members listed drama teachers as their top priority would he object to that assertion. The question came after discussion about funding for core classes and extracurricular activities. Eventually Walker said he would not see drama as a necessary priority for education. School Board member Cyndy Walsh retorted by noting that classes or activities such as drama enrich students and also play a role when they apply for colleges.

At one point, Walker asked Freakley what tax rate she felt the county should impose to cover the budget requests. Freakley did not respond to Walker’s question.

The Board of Supervisors must decide by Thursday what tax rates and proposed budget the county needs to advertise for a public hearing. The county plans to hold a public hearing on the budget and tax rates on April 7.

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

An earlier version of this story should have said the county will see a shortfall of $650,000 in the current fiscal period and would need to increase the real estate tax rate from 57 cents to 60 cents per $100 of assessed value to make up for a projected shortfall of $1.3 million in fiscal 2017.