New middle school cost goes up

FRONT ROYAL – Warren County can expect its new middle school to add roughly $1.75 million to its next budget and beyond.

Superintendent Greg Drescher presented a proposed fiscal 2018 budget to the Board of Supervisors at a joint work meeting with the School Board on Tuesday. County Administrator Doug Stanley also presented information to the boards.

The $1.75 million cost to operate the new middle school in its first year represents an increase over the original estimate of $1.56 million. Division officials neglected to include in the estimate the $46,000 salary for an English as a Second Language teacher; $20,000 to cover property insurance on the facility; and $79,500 for health insurance.

The division expects many of the personnel needed to run the new school to transfer from other facilities. A total of 17 new positions needed for the school include a principal, guidance department staff and teachers as well as secretaries, a nurse, a library aide and other workers. Total employee cost of $1.2 million covers salaries and benefits. The division would spend an additional $550,000 on utilities, custodial services and other recurring costs.

School officials estimate the division would receive $54.33 million in revenue and only $405,058 in new money from state and federal sources. The division needs to spend an additional $561,166 to cover an increase in contributions to the Virginia Retirement System. The state could help ease the burden on the school division and the county by phasing the payment over two years, Stanley said.

The proposed school budget would include nearly $600,000 in reductions to cut the anticipated deficit. Considerations include pay raises, step increases and bonuses.

Drescher’s report noted that Warren County ranks second lowest for per pupil spending in the region when compared to the counties of Clarke, Rappahannock, Fauquier, Frederick, Shenandoah and Page as well as Winchester. Warren County spent $9,900 per pupil in 2015, up from $8,878 in 2014. Page County spent $9,754 in 2015. By comparison, Shenandoah County spent $10,137 per pupil in 2015; Frederick County, $11,009; Clarke County, $11,096; Fauquier County, $12,173; Winchester, $12,587; Rappahannock County, $13,227.

The county might need to make adjustments after opening the new middle school, Drescher warned. The division needed additional funding when it opened Skyline High School and Warren County High School in 2007-2008.

Warren County schools gave employees a three percent pay increase for the current fiscal year while neighboring jurisdictions provided a two percent raise, Drescher noted.

The local appropriation for school funding has nearly doubled since fiscal 2005, from roughly $16 million to about $30 million. The county saw a significant funding jump for fiscal 2008 – $2.13 million – with the opening of the two high schools. Spending increased by $1.3 million in fiscal 2009. However, funding dropped by almost $400,000 in fiscal 2010 and the division received no additional local money in fiscal 2011 and 2012. Fiscal 2013 saw an increase of almost $700,000 or 3.55 percent. Drescher has said, however, that the division cut more than $1 million from its budget during the recession – an amount that has not yet been restored.

Local spending has increased an average of 3.22 percent over the past 10 years, Stanley reported.

However, the school’s budget as a percentage of the total county spending has decreased from about 64 percent in fiscal 2004 to roughly 58 percent this budget cycle.

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