By MIKE WILLIAMS
The Pulaski County School Board on Wednesday unanimously approved what amounts to a preliminary budget proposal of $66.8 million for the 2022-23 school year. The proposed budget seeks an increase in local funding of $1.6 million.
The school board is required by State Code to prepare a budget and present it to the county’s Board of Supervisors by April 1 of each year.
That work was complicated this year by the fact the Virginia General Assembly has yet to complete work on a new state budget.
Both the House and Senate passed drastically different budget bills during the recent legislative session, but a final budget compromise could not be reached by the time the legislature adjourned.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin has called on the legislature to reconvene on Monday, April 4 to complete work on the state budget and other proposed legislation.
Until the legislature’s work is finished, local school officials were forced to make an educated guess on just how much revenue the school system will receive in state funding – which accounts for nearly half of the school system’s budget.
According to Chris Stafford, Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Business Operations, figures from the House of Delegates’ proposed budget were used to complete the school system’s spending plan because it is the most conservative on revenue figures.
“Because the two competing budget bills are so far apart in projected revenue, we feel it best to use the most conservative budget numbers and then we can adjust our own budget once the final state budget is approved,” Stafford told the board.
The proposed school budget for next year includes $31.7 million in state funding – an increase of $2.7 million over the current year. Stafford said he feels, once the final state budget is agreed upon, the school system will receive more in state funds.
If more state funds are received, they will be used to lessen the $1.6 million in additional county funds the school system’s budget is requesting.
The proposed budget includes $4.3 million to fund the school board’s budget priorities.
Those priorities include:
$244,625 for new positions including a third Cougar Assistant at PCHS, a Transportation Manager, rotating school nurse and a Public Relations Specialist.
$1,541,238 for a minimum 5 percent raise and step increase for teachers.
$384,407 for a 5 percent raise for support staff.
$104,981 for a new salary scale for custodians.
$157,587 for a new bus driver pay scale which raises starting pay from $80.36 per day to $85, and the top rate from $114.93 to $125 per day.
$462,704 to adjust the paraprofessional salary scale to keep up with changes to Virginia’s minimum wage scale and change to full-time status.
$322,735 for additional teaching positions including an additional teaching position at Snowville Elementary due to enrollment increase; a new CTE position at PCHS to start an EMT program to train future first responders; an additional elementary gifted teacher, and two additional special teachers at the elementary level.
$93,056 for an additional assistant principal at Pulaski County Middle School.
$93,056 for the addition of a full-time activities director at PCMS.
$445,929 to add a paraprofessional to every kindergarten class, which was a request from the community. An additional 19 paraprofessionals would have to be hired.
$445,690 to begin an annual process of replacing Chromebooks in at least three grade levels beginning next year.
$47,000 for the Public Relations Specialist non-personnel budget for printing and mailing of a school system newsletter that would be mailed to every household in the county.
Stafford reiterated that when the General Assembly completes its budget, and total state revenue figures are finally known, the school budget can be revised.
Also included in the school’s budget proposal are federal funds of $16.7 million – way more than the school system generally receives in federal dollars.
Much of that money – $9.1 million – comes from federal ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funds and will go towards the school system’s capital improvement project list of needs.
In a press release from the school system, Dr. Kevin Siers, Superintendent of Pulaski County Public Schools stated, “We have developed and the School Board has approved a comprehensive needs based budget request that, if fully funded, will allow Pulaski County to continue providing a high quality educational experience for all of our students and should enable us to remain competitive with other surrounding school divisions in recruiting and retaining the best educators in Southwest Virginia. We look forward to engaging with the County Administrator and Board of Supervisors in the coming weeks to advocate for the priorities established in this budget request and to answer any questions they might have about our budget process.”