Schools chief proposes $64.8 million budget

WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah County Schools Superintendent Mark Johnston is proposing a budget that’s almost $3.2 million higher for the 2017-2018 school year than the current year’s $61.6 million spending plan.

The proposed $64.8 million budget, presented at Thursday’s School Board meeting, includes funds for helping to attract and retain staff as well as allotting a little more than $2 million for employee compensation and benefits, which includes a step increase in salary and one percent increase for cost of living adjustment, as well as increased employer contribution for dependents on employee health insurance.

“Employees are the foundation for student achievement,” he said. “The success of our students depends on the quality of our teachers and our ability to keep and recruit and develop our very best.”

Johnston said 53 percent of the teaching staff holds advanced degrees, and that a division that includes Virginia’s Outstanding Agricultural Education Teacher, Virginia Principal of the Year and a national finalist for Principal of the Year are accomplishments that need to be rewarded.

He showcased some of the successes of the division, such as a four-year graduation rate of 94.7 percent that is the “envy of the state.” The state average is 91.3 percent. He said the drop-out rate is .63 percent, also below the state average of 1.19 percent.

He added that 522 students are enrolled in Advanced Placement and dual enrollment, the English Learner reading pass rate increased 18 percent from 2014 to 2016, the English Learner math pass rate increased 16 percent and the percentage of students earning one or more industry credentials has increased 418 percent.

The division is also home to five national FFA gold chapters, the state FFA president, the state Family, Career and Community Leaders of America president and three state FCCLA officers, he added.

He said funding will be needed to fill still vacant and soon to be vacant positions in the division. He noted that as of Feb. 7, the division is still trying to fill 12 positions. Two positions are at the elementary school level, six are at the middle school level, three are at the high school level and one is for a division-wide school psychologist.

“I’m really worried,” he said about the open positions. He added that in the next few months, he will begin to receive notices of retirement that will only increase the number of vacancies.

The proposed budget also includes $762,390 for hiring instructional personnel and related support, resources and programming. It includes hiring a Spanish teacher for the northern campus, a science teacher, a drama teacher, school counselor, two special education teachers, a part-time library paraprofessional, part-time office paraprofessional and an instructional specialist in English. It also includes purchasing software for school counselors and new textbooks to replace 14-year old social studies textbooks.

Johnston is also asking for $57,000 to purchase software to make documents easily accessible online and other software to aid research.

Under system efficiencies in the budget, he is asking for $280,969 to hire custodians, a federal regulations compliance coordinator, paperless registration software and someone to manage division accounts.

Johnston added that there are many unmet needs from previous budget years that are on the budget again this year, such as instructional staff, professional learning, instructional supplies, technology, maintenance, transportation and custodial services.

Following the budget presentation, Board Member Katheryn Freakley said there are many budget items that are mandated by the state or federal government, such as special education resources, that need to be funded.

Board Member Cynthia Walsh said she expects to hear comments about cutting funding in one area to fund something else. She said she often hears people advocate for cutting administration funding, but she said these employees are doing much more than their job title entails to fill the needs of the division.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, several residents spoke in approval of creating a needs-based budget.

Eugenia Kemble, of Fort Valley, a chair of the Shenandoah Democrats Education Committee, said the board needs to approve a budget that ensures students have the skills needed to fill good jobs when they graduate.

“Cuts were wrongly made last year and can guess we will face the same kinds of obstacle again,” she said. “An articulate case for funding increases was made by the School Board and by those who work for and in the schools. But at the end of the process where the buck stops, this was ignored by the Board of Supervisors. It was deaf to the overwhelming outcry for needed funding.”

Eloise Haun, of Woodstock, added that she went to these schools, works in the county and has grandchildren in the school system.

“I’m gravely concerned about defunding,” she said. “It’s a sinister, insidious way of getting rid of public service. And you have defunded and you may be continuously defunded unless there is investigation as to what your threshold is when it becomes a civil rights issue.”

The full budget presentation can be found on the division’s website at http://shenandoah.k12.va.us/.

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


At A Glance:
• Proposed 2017-18 budget: $64,811,247
• Current budget: $61,616,761

Proposed budget includes:

  • $2,094,127 for employee compensation, benefits.
  • $762,390 for instructional personnel, resources.
  • $57,000 for communication resources.
  • $280,969 for operating efficiencies.

New in proposed budget:

  • A 1 percent cost of living increase
  • A step increase in salary for eligible employees
  • Upgraded health care benefits
  • New personnel, including teachers, counselors, paraprofessionals, instructional specialist and custodians.
  • New textbook/instructional resources
  • New software, including Career Cruising software, BoardDocs, Hanover Research and Forecast5 Analytics
  • A middle school alternative program