The Pulaski County School Board on Monday approved a new and final version of the 2020-2021 school budget.
“Any other year this revised budget would be a very good budget,” stated Chris Stafford, Assistant School Superintendent for Finance and Business Operations.
Back in March, the board approved the first version of the budget, which Stafford referred to then as “the best budget I’ve ever had the pleasure of working on.”
He and School Superintendent Dr. Kevin Siers noted then, however, that revenue figures would be affected by the COVID-19 shutdown and that would require changes in that earlier budget.
The big change made in the new budget comes in the form of state revenue increases being lower than first thought.
The revised budget approved Monday shows state funding increasing for next year by $1.4 million. The earlier budget had projected an increase in state funds of $2 million.
Stafford said more changes in state funding are possible once the state has a better handle on just how badly sales tax revenue has been reduced due to the shutdown. The full impact on localities may not be known until later this summer or in the fall.
Also, because state lottery revenue is down by 25 to 30 percent, school officials will hold off on purchasing three additional school buses until the fourth quarter of 2021. This will allow for $292,261 in the budget for buses to be held back as part of a contingency against further state revenue decreases. The total contingency built into the budget for next school year is $345,167.
Losing some $600,000 in state funding meant school officials had to make some changes in their spending plans in the new budget.
The biggest changes came in scaling back pay increases for teachers and staff.
The first version of the budget featured a new teacher salary scale that was modeled from the current Radford City Schools pay scale, and would have generally matched or slightly exceeded each step from the Radford scale for those with a Bachelor’s degree.
Because of state revenue reductions, Stafford said it was necessary to table the new salary scale and keep things as they currently are.
Teachers now will receive a step increase plus 1 percent added to the scale, which Stafford says is generally consistent with other surrounding school divisions and those in Region 7.
A 2 percent increase for support staff has now been trimmed to 1 percent.
The new budget realities, however, did not prevent the school system from lowering employee health insurance premiums. The new premiums, when compared to surrounding school divisions, will give Pulaski County the second lowest employee plus one rates and the lowest family plan rates of any school system around Pulaski County.
Stafford said that will give the county a competitive edge in recruiting and retaining teachers and staff and will move school system employees closer to the same rates currently paid by county employees.
State funding in the budget is based on an Average Daily Membership (ADM) of 3,861 students. The current budget is based on an ADM of 3,792.
Stafford said state officials have advised school officials to expect a decrease in student enrollment at the start of the next school year.
The budget for 2020-2021 also includes savings of $117,029 due to retirements and personnel changes occurring this school year, and another $129,690 in savings due to teacher retirements that are effective at the end of the current fiscal year.
School Board Chairman Tim Hurst thanked the Pulaski County Board of Supervisors for committing to level funding for the next fiscal year, despite the COVID-19 shutdown’s impact on county revenues.
“They have their own challenges as well,” Hurst said.
By MIKE WILLIAMS, The Patriot