Shenandoah schools lag behind other divisions

WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah County’s public schools are lagging behind neighboring school divisions in terms of spending on facilities and students.

During Tuesday evening’s School Board work session, Superintendent Mark Johnston compared Shenandoah County schools with surrounding divisions to show why the long-term facilities plan is a way to catch up to neighboring school divisions.

“Our goal is to have the board come to the end of the meeting comfortable wherever you end up,” he said about the facilities plan decision.

He compared facilities expenditures, debt service, per pupil spending and enrollment and school configurations based on the 2014-2015 Superintendent’s Annual Report sent to the state.

He said that Shenandoah County’s school division spent nothing on facilities. Warren County spent .58 percent of total disbursements on facilities; Frederick County spent 6.9 percent; Winchester schools spent 12.57 percent; Rockingham County spent .16 percent.

He said those numbers can be misleading because Shenandoah has spent money on facilities, but those expenditures show up in operational costs while other divisions have facilities financed under routine maintenance costs in the capital improvement plans.

He said the debt service of the school divisions shows a better depiction of what is spent in each division.

Shenandoah spent 5.02 percent of total disbursements on debt service. He said every other division except Warren County spent more than Shenandoah. Warren spent 3.16 percent; Frederick spent 8.10 percent; Rockingham spent 6.93 percent.

In terms of per pupil expenditures, he said Shenandoah has improved, but still needs to catch up with other divisions.

“Good news to report in the state report, we’ve moved up from our competitors,” he said. “That’s a little bit of good news for us in terms of our investment in our students and our students’ education.”

Shenandoah schools spent $10,137 per pupil for operations — more than Warren County, which spent $9,900 per pupil. But, Winchester and Frederick and Rockingham counties spent more. Frederick spent $11,009 per pupil. Winchester spent the most at $12,587 and Rockingham spent $10,611.

Johnston also explained how Shenandoah is unique in having an equal number of high schools, middle schools and elementary schools. Neighboring counties have elementary schools that outnumber their middle and high schools.

Warren County has one middle school and two high schools, but has five elementary schools. Frederick County has three high schools, four middle schools and 11 elementary schools. The city of Winchester has one high school and a middle school, but four elementary schools. Rockingham County has four high schools and middle schools and the most elementary schools with 15.

He added that special schools, such as career and technical centers and early childhood centers, weren’t included.

When looking at enrollment in the divisions, Shenandoah is in the middle of the pack. Shenandoah has an enrollment at 6,075 students, but an average school size of 675.

Warren County has a lower enrollment at 5,436 students, but a larger school size of 680. Winchester has an enrollment of 4,414 with a school size of 736.

Frederick County has an enrollment of 13,203 and an average school size of 734, but has larger high schools to accommodate those students.

Rockingham County has an 11,887 enrollment with a school size of 517.

He also noted how many students were in the county’s high schools, middle schools and elementary schools.

He said Shenandoah was unique in that the elementary school population was larger than at the high schools and middle schools.

“Our largest schools are our elementary schools. That is an anomaly,” he said.

In the other divisions, high schools held the largest student population, with elementary schools having the fewest students.

Johnston said this data shows why the capital improvement plan and what’s put into the plan is important.

He recounted how a school in Montgomery County Public Schools had a roof collapse and the division didn’t invest in a capital improvement plan to fund the replacement of the school and had to use a $124 million bond to replace the building two years later.

“Buildings and facilities have a useful life,” he said.

Director of Finance Barbara Stombock said the school division’s capital improvement plan is a capital budget and planning document that is prepared annually that covers a five-year period.

She added that industry standards suggest 1.5 to 3 percent of replacement value for annual capital funding. The recommended annual capital renewal budget is $3.9 million.

“We don’t quite make that mark,” Stombock said.

The average annual request by the school division has been $2.2 million with an additional $1.7 million for capital maintenance projects.

Last year, the Board of Supervisors approved $1,037,546, a deficit of over $2.6 million requested by the School Board.

She reviewed requests from principals and department heads for the 2016-2017 fiscal year capital improvement plan. During October they will draft a plan for the superintendent’s review. In November a plan will be proposed to the School Board and will be on the agenda for approval in December. The approved plan will be in the February superintendent’s proposed budget, and a budget discussion will be held in March with the Board of Supervisors.

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