Approved school budget seeks $534,000 in additional county funding

Approved school budget seeks $534,000 in additional county funding

The Pulaski County School Board is asking the Board of Supervisors for an additional $534,000 to balance its budget for next school year.

The School Board on Tuesday evening, meeting at Pulaski County High School approved a nearly $52 million school budget for the 2021-22 school year.

The budget as presented by Chris Stafford, Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Business Operation calls for an additional $1.1 million in state revenue for a total of $29 million from Richmond. State funding is based on an Average Daily Membership of 3,807 students.

The increased funding from Richmond includes supplemental funding to help localities provide 5 percent pay increases to teachers and support staff.

Failure to give the full 5 percent raises reduces the amount of the state supplements.

Stafford told the school board that finance directors for school systems in surrounding localities have indicated their divisions are all proposing to give the full 5 percent increase for next year.

Giving a lesser increase than 5 percent, Stafford said, would put Pulaski County behind the other school divisions. That would put the school system in a bad position when competing for teachers and administrators.

Providing 5 percent increases for teachers will cost the school system just over $1.3 million and providing support staff with the 5 percent increase will cost $486,000.

The school budget also calls for new salary scales for custodians to keep pace with future changes in the state’s minimum wage increases.

The state’s current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour increases May 1 to $9.50 per hour, to $11.00 per hour on Jan. 1, 2022, and to $12.00 per hour on Jan. 1, 2023.

The current starting pay for a custodian is $10.64 an hour. The proposed new starting pay is $12.00 per hour.

The cost for the new custodian pay scale is just over $149,000.

School nutrition workers will also see the increases; however, those costs are not included in the school budget, but are provided through the school cafeteria fund.

Stafford said a $345,000 contingency fund created in the current year’s budget due to concerns over COVID will also be applied to next year’s budget to lessen the shortfall.

The contingency plan was created at the beginning of the pandemic and after the shutdown of schools to help deal with unknown costs due to COVID-19 and possible decreases in state revenues and student enrollment.

The contingency is no longer needed, Stafford explained, due to the stimulus funding received to address COVID-related costs and because state funding and student enrollment have stabilized.

The result is a budget shortfall for next year of just over $534,000, with $16,041,260 in county funds proposed for education. County funding this year is $15,507,134.

After the School Board voted 5-0 to approve the budget, Stafford was asked what happens if the supervisors reject the request for the additional funding.

Stafford said the School Board would have to meet again and consider alternatives to address the shortfall. However, he noted that with 85 percent of the budget being related to personnel, it would be very difficult to reduce the budget further.

Plus, he said, if the School Board had to reduce the 5 percent raises, it would mean less received in state supplement funding.

“We think this is a very conservative budget,” stated School Board Chairman Tim Hurst. “All we are asking for is to maintain a competitive pay scale.”

The budget will now be transmitted to the county and will meet the state-imposed deadline of April 1 for schools to provide supervisors with a budget.

By MIKE WILLIAMS, The Patriot