School Board awaits funding word from county; prepared to eliminate 26 positions to fund budget priorities

The Pulaski County School Board is prepared to eliminate as many as 26 positions – through attrition and a Reduction In Force (RIF) if necessary – to address a $1.4 million shortfall in its 2019-20 budget proposal.

School officials discussed their options Tuesday afternoon in closed session.

School officials said a final decision on their proposed budget, and whether or not cuts will be needed, won’t be made until school officials hear back from the Board of Supervisors on how much – if any – of the $1.4 million the county will provide.

Early in April the School Board approved a $47.9 million budget proposal, which included a request for an additional $1.4 million in county funds over this year’s appropriation of $14,827,134 to cover the cost of five budget priorities set by the School Board.

Those priorities included $837,464 to provide 3 percent raises and a step increase for teachers; $311,150 for 3 percent raises for all support staff; $90,943 for a new bus driver salary scale; $250,000 for five school security officers for each elementary school, and $80,756 for the hiring of one Career and Technical Education Career Counselor.

School Superintendent Dr. Kevin Siers said the School Board had been presented Tuesday with two personnel lists – an attrition list including several vacated positions that could go unfilled, and a RIF (Reduction In Force) list – that  would free up the funding needed to cover the $1.4 million shortfall should the Board of Supervisors not provide the sought after additional funding.

“We recognize other counties are giving 3 percent raises, so in order for us to stay competitive we need to hold steady on a 3 percent raise for teachers,” Siers told the board.

He continued that Pulaski County – at the top of its pay scale – had slipped from average to 6th place in the region.

“Not doing 3 percent could put us at the bottom of the scale after we’ve worked the last few years to dig out from being at the bottom one or two in the region,” Siers stated.

“It’s distressing that even some economically distressed school divisions like Dickenson and Buchanan – places like that – are also giving 3 percent,” said Assistant School Superintendent Chris Stafford.

Massie District representative Beckie Cox added that the school system runs the risk of losing teachers without giving the 3 percent raise at a time when a teacher shortage is a problem in Virginia and other states.

Siers continued that, even with a 3 percent raise, the salary gap between Pulaski County and other localities such as Montgomery County continues to grow considering a 3.5 percent raise was just approved in Montgomery.

“The gap just continues to grow and grow each year and each year we lose teachers to Montgomery County,” he stated.

Vice Chairman Mike Barbour asked if Pulaski County had determined if it plans to give its employees a raise this year.

Siers said it was his understanding the Board of Supervisors had worked a 3 percent raise into their budget this year.

“If we lose people because they didn’t get a raise we’ll never get them back,” stated Cloyd District representative Bill Benson.

Siers noted a number of people had questioned why elementary school security officers had been added to the budget.

“We feel they are very much needed, and that it is important to keep out in the forefront that we have isolated elementary schools out in the county and the response time if something occurred would be 20 to 30 minutes,” he said. “Having the security officers at the schools would allow for someone to be on hand to respond to any type emergency situation.”

Benson responded that “a child’s education is probably the most important thing they can get, but their safety is equally important. I don’t see how we cannot fund these security officers. That to me is a must.”

“I agree,” echoed School Board Chairman Tim Hurst, who questioned why security officers even have to be a budget item for the School Board.

“I think it should be the responsibility of the county to protect its citizens and children in the schools. It’s a shame we’re having to include that in our budget priorities,” he added.

“We’re having to choose between instruction and safety,” Siers added.

“That’s right,” Hurst exclaimed.

Siers said the Board of Supervisors must notify the School Board by May 1 of its funding intentions, and advised the School Board that it would need an additional budget work session the last week of April to make a final decision on funding and any Reduction In Force.

By MIKE WILLIAMS, The Patriot

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