WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah County Public Schools Superintendent Mark Johnston presented a proposed $73.9 million operating budget Thursday evening.

The proposed budget for the fiscal year 2021 is a 5.29% increase of $3.7 million from the $70.1 million budgeted for the fiscal year 2020.

Johnston said the theme of this year’s budget is “Our Schools. Our Community. Our Future” and that it addresses an urgent need for the division.

“What I refer to as boots on the ground. Note that except for one-half a position to upgrade a clerical position, all new positions are school-based and directed to support for students,” Johnston said.

That includes hiring nine school-based student-support teachers to support schools in addressing disciplinary issues, chronic absenteeism, and coordination of the state-mandated testing program. It also includes an increased workday of eight hours for paraprofessionals who provide student support and the hiring of three paraprofessionals to staff an in-school alternative program for elementary students. The proposed budget also includes hiring a full-time teacher for both Stonewall Jackson High School and North Fork Middle School.

Johnston’s proposed budget anticipates the county contributing local revenue of $31.4 million. The state is expected to contribute $39.3 million and the federal government $1.2 million.

If the budget is approved, the division’s cost per pupil would rise to $13,087, up from $12,508 in the fiscal year 2020.

Another priority in Johnson's proposed budget is merit raises for all employees equal to a “step” with an additional 1% for teachers.

Johnston said teachers will receive the biggest increase followed by clerical staff, custodial staff and other support positions. He stressed that administrative staff members are receiving the lowest increase, the average of which is 0.8%.

Jeff Rudy, president of the Shenandoah County Education Association, said Johnston’s proposed budget addresses many of the pressing needs for the division. The education association, however, is hoping additional funds will be found to help fund a more substantial pay raise.

“We know tonight is merely the first step in negotiations over the next few months. But, these are difficult times for SCPS employees as we brace ourselves for the possibility of another trying year with even higher insurance costs, and a meager pay raise that can’t offset the differences.” Rudy said.

Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors Dennis Morris, Steve Baker, Tim Taylor, and Brad Pollack were in the audience as well as County Administrator Evan Vass.

Vass, Morris, and Baker, when asked what they thought of the proposed budget, said they need time to study it before commenting.

In an impromptu visit, walking in with Pollack was U.S. Rep. Ben Cline, R-6th District. Cline stayed to hear a presentation given by Gina Stettler, director of special education, about the school division's December data report to the state about the children served through special education.

Also Thursday, the board:

• Unanimously approved an ad hoc committee made up of two members of the Shenandoah County School Board and of the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors to discuss a variety of capital needs as part of capital improvement planning. The School Board approved board members Cyndy Walsh and Andrew Keller to sit on the committee.

• Unanimously approved adjusting language that shifts Johnston’s $500 per month vehicle allowance from an allowance to his annual base salary. The change does not result in any additional compensation. That was done per the advisement of the Virginia Retirement System.

Contact Melissa Topey at mtopey@nvdaily.com