School Board-approved budget now moves to supervisors

WOODSTOCK – The Shenandoah County Public School Board has approved a $67.4 million 2018-2019 operating budget, despite General Assembly lawmakers failing to nail down the state’s budget.

The school division’s budget is an increase of $4.1 million from this year’s operating budget.

State lawmakers recently adjourned without passing a complete budget, and Gov. Ralph Northam has ordered the assembly to return on April 11.

Superintendent Mark Johnston said at Thursday’s School Board meeting that he does not anticipate much difference in the figures he has seen on the state’s portion of school funding.

School Board Chairman Karen Whetzel noted, “I am approving the budget but on the understanding this (school reconfiguration) is a short-term solution.”

The acceptance of the operating budget allows the School Board to move forward to make decisions regarding its plans to reconfigure the schools in the southern campus for the next school year. Whether the reconfiguration plan will be adopted depends on whether the county Board of Supervisors, the final authority that allocates the funding, approves the budget.

The School Board expects to adopt its final budget on May 10 once the Board of Supervisors sets an advertised tax rate, holds a public hearing, and then finally adopts that tax rate and its budget, including how much it will fund the school budget. That vote is scheduled for April 17.

The division aims to reconfigure grade levels for Ashby Lee Elementary, North Fork Middle, and Stonewall Jackson High School.  Johnston, as a way to plan for next year’s operations, is proposing moving Ashby Lee’s fifth-grade class to North Fork Middle School and North Fork’s eighth-grade class to Stonewall Jackson High School. This will make Ashby Lee a pre-K to fourth-grade school, North Fork a fifth- to seventh-grade school and Stonewall Jackson an eighth- grade to 12th-grade school, which it was previously

The accepted budget also includes salary increases for all employees but adjusts the teacher pay scale to the median salary of surrounding school divisions plus 2 percent. Non-teacher scale positions would increase by step plus 3 percent.

Shenandoah County Public Schools is asking for more money in an effort to be competitive in the face of a growing teacher shortage, growing enrollment and students with greater needs.

The division for the last two years has experienced teachers leaving the schools at a 15 percent rate each year. That is the second highest rate in the region, trailing only Winchester, which had a 20 percent turnover rate last year.

Shenandoah County school employees did not receive a salary increase this year. The division was only one of two among nine in the region surrounding Shenandoah County that did not give teachers or support staff a raise.

Other highlights in the school operating budget are:

  • The hiring of four special education teachers and four special education paraprofessionals.
  • The hiring of school counselors at Ashby Lee Elementary School and W.W. Robinson. The counselor to student ratio in the schools is as high as 751 to one.
  • Sustained one-to-one devices for all students
  • Division-wide curriculum specialist in math.

The division’s total budget increases to $78 million once its Capital Improvement Projects request of $5.1 million and special budget, which includes food service, of $5.5 million is factored in.

Budget Timeline

March 20:  Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors work session to work on the budget and set the advertised tax rate.

April 5:  Board of Supervisors public hearing on budget and tax rate.

April 17:  Board of Supervisors adopt budget and tax rate.

May 10: Shenandoah County School Board adopts final budget.