Shenandoah County schools hoping state shows them the money

WOODSTOCK – Sometimes you do the best you can with less.

In August, the Shenandoah County Public School district announced that for the second year in a row it experienced a 15 percent loss of teachers with many leaving for jobs in area districts, including Winchester, which budgeted for pay raises and offered better benefits.

The school year, which began Aug. 7, started off smoothly despite the loss, said Shenandoah County School District superintendent Mark Johnston.

The district lost 77 teachers in 2016 and 83 teachers in 2017, for a total of 160 teachers. On average, those teachers had seven years experience.

The district filled 103 teaching positions last year and 123 teacher positions this year. This includes teachers who transferred to other teaching positions within the division. Former substitute teachers filled 13 of the 123 positions this year.

Administrators and teachers are working hard to minimize any impact in the classrooms but the loss of experienced teachers will have an effect, Johnston said..

Experienced teachers are better able to identify problems early on when they start to occur, identify them correctly and offer reviews to correct students and advance their knowledge to where they need to be, he said.

“Not to say new teachers are not talented but it takes time,” Johnston said.

He said everyone is working hard and working in smart, strategic ways.

“Its important to me that teachers know we are in this together,” Johnston said.

The district invests in teacher training and professional development to make faculty members effective. It can be frustrating when that investment goes with the teacher when they leave, to the benefit of the other district, Johnston said.

Experienced teachers know the community and the families the students are coming from — what support and challenges the students face in their life, Johnston said.

“As teachers leave you loose relationships with other teachers, families, the community,” Johnston said.

The district filled some of the positions by hiring its substitute teachers into full time positions, with the size of the substitute teacher pool already experiencing its own shortage.

“The end of last year we experienced a shortage of subs so that some days, we were not able to fill all positions. It was not a regular occurrence but did happen on occasion,” Johnston said.

The district is now scrambling to recruit to fill its substitute teacher positions as well.

The district has 2.5 full time positions to fill. One and a half is for speech language pathologists, the professionals who provide speech services throughout the division.

“Being down 1.5 positions has caused us to have to contract out those services to private providers, which has increased our costs,” Johnston said.

The other open position is a math teacher.

Salary and benefits account for 80 percent of the Shenandoah County Public School district budget, he said.

The school district has an operational budget of $63,288,867 for fiscal year 2018.

The problem facing the school district today was years in the making, Johnston said.

The district receives more state funding locally than it does from the county.

The recession in the mid-2000s forced many divisions to freeze salaries, including Shenandoah County Public Schools. As the economy started to recover, SCPS has been slow to recover, Johnston said.

‘The state share of the operational budget has lagged,” he said.

The state will be looking at funding again sometime during the 2019 legislative session, which begins in January. As part of the process, the state looks at the ability of localities to pay their share of local education – – which could result in a decrease or an increase of funding.

“Let’s hope it goes well,” Johnston said. “There is at least one county supervisor who seems to believe the state share will go up as indicated by public statements during this year’s budget process but no one has a crystal ball.”