School Board discusses creating a needs-based budget

WOODSTOCK – The Shenandoah County School Board discussed how to create a needs-based budget for students during a Thursday night work session.

Superintendent Mark Johnston reviewed the division’s goals and beliefs with the Board.

“The idea being that all of this informs you as we move forward in the budget development process so that hopefully then when you see my budget presentation on Feb. 9, you’ll have some basis for why I’m making the recommendations to you that I am,” he said.

He showed a short video, The Social Side of Education, about school reform and improvement and the effects of staff leaving the schools. When quality, experienced teachers leave the division, it affects the entire school dynamic, from staff to students. He added that most teachers who leave the division head to Rockingham County.

When looking at teacher turnover rates, he said Shenandoah County Public Schools has seen a 15 percent turnover rate over the last three years. Rockingham County and Page County have seen a turnover rate of nine percent, Warren County’s rate is 14 percent, Frederick County’s rate is 12 percent and Winchester City has seen a turnover rate of 15 percent.

He said the results of a survey taken by teachers who have left the division show the top reasons teachers leave is due to a lack of support from community leaders, lack of respect from parents and the community for the teaching profession, financial reasons, feeling overwhelmed and having to follow too many initiatives.

He also showed the enrollment trends within the school division. The five-year enrollment has dropped by about 160 students, but the number of students receiving free and reduced lunch has remained consistent at about 50 percent and the number of students requiring special education and English Learner students have risen.

Johnston also noted that the Shenandoah County Public Schools’ per pupil expenditures from 2014-2015 are lower than school divisions such as Winchester, Harrisonburg, Frederick County, Clarke County and the state average. Shenandoah County is only slightly higher than Augusta County, Warren County and Page County in per pupil spending.

He also said Shenandoah County Public Schools falls behind other divisions in terms of salary and health insurance costs.

A funding trend for the Capital Improvement Plan was explained, showing that funding has not kept up with the growing needs. Appropriated funds fall short of the requested funding. The proposed 2018-2022 Capital Improvement Plan totals $12.3 million, $7.6 million funding maintenance needs.

He said that many unmet needs from previous budget years are still in need of funding, such as under-resourced instructional staff, professional learning, instructional supplies, technology, custodial services, maintenance and transportation.

Replacing social studies textbooks has also been on the list for many years. The vast majority of textbooks are 14 years old, leaving out important recent history. He spoke of changes in history over the last 14 years such as the creation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s election as governor of California and the launch of Apple iTunes.

At the end of the meeting, Chairwoman Karen Whetzel said she is excited to see the results of the budget survey posted on the school division website, which will remain open until Jan. 27, to see how the community views the needs of the school division.

Johnston added that about 400 people have taken the survey so far.

Board member Sonya Williams-Giersch said she would like to see out-of-the-box ideas to creatively reward staff that do not require financial support to help make up for shortfalls in salaries and health insurance offered by the division.

Board member Katheryn Freakley said that teachers leaving the division due to a lack of support from community leaders is very telling and hurts the schools.

“How we’re treating our professional staff, degreed, professional, smart, amazing staff and they feel like they don’t get any support from community leadership,” she said.

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