MARK JOHNSTON

Mark Johnston

WOODSTOCK — Shenandoah County Public Schools Superintendent Mark Johnston presented a $69.7 million proposed operating budget Tuesday evening to School Board members.

The proposed budget for the fiscal year 2020 is an overall 4 percent increase of $2.7 million from the $66,998,391 for the fiscal year 2019.

The county is expected to contribute local revenue of $1.5 million, an increase of 5.55 percent. The state is expected to contribute $1.2 million, an increase of 3.38 percent. The federal government is expected to contribute $0.1 million, a decrease of 7.15 percent.

Johnston’s proposed budget is based on the school division’s most pressing needs, he said. “This budget deserves full funding.”

If the budget is approved, the division’s cost per pupil would rise to $12,390 from this year’s $11,885. In 2017 cost comparisons, the last year available, the county schools spent below the state average and was fourth from the bottom in cost per pupil for the state, above only Warren, Page, and Augusta counties.

Johnston said he feels the division probably remains fourth from the bottom, or close to it.

Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors Rich Walker, Dennis Morris and Steve Baker were in the audience as well as County Administrator Mary Price.

Johnston said the proposed budget reflects hopes for retaining the gains made last year.

“Last year we dug ourselves out of a deep hole,” he said, nothing that the division must remain committed to sustaining those gains.

There are three main motivations driving the proposed budget, Johnston said. Those are keeping teacher salaries competitive, meeting the needs of the county’s growing student population in special education and English learner services, and strengthening social-emotional supports for students.

Last year, salary increases helped the division teacher turnover rate fall by almost 30 percent.

The Shenandoah County Education Association, which advocates for the division’s’ teachers, has asked for a 5 percent raise.

Johnston’s budget proposes a 3 percent salary increase.

The division is also requesting money for a full-time family assessment planning team coordinator, a coordinator for those students who need special accommodations for vision or hearing problems, a special education teacher support specialist at Triplett Tech, a human resources assistant, and a part-time nurse coordinator.

Last year, the division requested filling about 18 new positions.

Johnston pointed out there are fewer positions to be filled because the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors last year approved budget requests that allowed for several positions to be filled.

The division, however, needs bus and van drivers and has added $3,000 in the budget for recruitment purposes.

The schools have 112 drivers with nine substitutes. Those substitutes, however, are driving full time to fill in when drivers call in sick or take a vacation. Many drivers are doing double runs on all three campuses where they pick up and drop off students, return to school and pick up more students to drop off home.

The division is offering a $300 cash bonus recruitment incentive for someone who refers a driver candidate who is hired on and remains with the division for a year, Johnston said. The division already has in place a $500 cash bonus for the new driver.

The budget also takes into consideration a proposal that would have the school division take over the future management of the county’s technology services, excluding the Sheriff’s Office and courts. This would offer greater support and add efficiencies, Johnston said.

The county would transfer $252,636 to the school ledger.

School Board member Cynthia Walsh offered her thoughts on the budget on Wednesday.

“I think the proposed budget is a good first step in the budget process. I am looking forward to the work session on Thursday where we can ask clarifying questions and have a good discussion with board members and SBO staff,” Walsh said.

She pointed out that a 7 p.m. budget hearing follows today’s work session, which will offer a chance for board members to hear from the community on the proposed budget.

Walsh said the division’s special populations are always a concern, and many of the proposals in the budget seem to address those needs as well as the health and well-being of all county public schools students.

The proposed 3 percent pay increase for employees this year, she said, will help ensure that the division doesn’t fall behind again.

“But, we still don’t know what the funding out of Richmond will look like, and we also don’t have a quote from our health insurance provider, so there is still some uncertainty on what will happen with salary and benefits,” she said.

Morris said after the meeting he appreciated Johnston’s work on the budget and, based on just what he heard and without studying the budget, it appeared to be a realistic budget and not a wish list.

“Whether we as supervisors can fund it all is yet to be seen,” Morris said.

The next steps for the budget include today’s School Board work session. The Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors presents the county budget on Tuesday, with a budget work session to discuss education funding scheduled for March 5.

The School Board is scheduled for later work sessions and is expected to adopt the budget at its March 14 School Board meeting.

Contact Melissa Topey at mtopey@nvdaily.com