School Board seeking $1.4 million in new county funding for 2019-20 budget

Amid concerns over a possible reduction in force, the Pulaski County School Board on Tuesday unanimously approved a $48 million budget proposal for FY 2019-20.

The School Board and Board of Supervisors will meet Monday at 6 p.m. in the county’s Technology Center in the Maple Shade plaza to discuss the budget proposal, which includes an additional $1.4 million from the county.

The proposed budget includes funding for the School Board’s five top priorities: raises and step increases for teachers and support staff, a new salary scale for bus drivers, the hiring of five new security officers at the county’s elementary schools and the hiring of a career and technical education career counselor.

Chris Stafford, Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Business Operations reviewed the budget proposal for board members and explained state funding included in the proposal is based on Average Daily Membership next school year of 3,792 students.

Stafford said the ADM figure – which is lower than the 3,937 this year’s budget is based upon – comes from the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia. School systems from across the Commonwealth, including Pulaski County, have long used Weldon Cooper as the source for ADM figures.

School board members expressed hope Tuesday the expected annual decline in ADM might not be as large as forecasted, which would result in increased state funding for the school system. Currently the school has an ADM of 3,885. The school system receives roughly $7,500 per student in state funding.

The budget proposal as approved Tuesday calls for $26.4 million in state funding, $16.3 million in county funds, $4.4 million in federal dollars and $817,000 in “other” funding.

Of the $1.4 million in new county funding being sought by the School Board, over half of it – $837,464 – is earmarked for a 3 percent raise and step increase for teachers.

Stafford said for many years, Pulaski County Schools had fallen behind surrounding school divisions in teacher pay, which made it difficult to attract and retain highly qualified teachers.  A new salary scale implemented in 2016-17 raised the county’s teacher salaries to the average of surrounding localities.

He said to maintain the integrity of the pay scale and to keep pace with surrounding localities, it is necessary to give all teachers a one-step increase on the pay scale for their service.

Stafford noted that Montgomery County Schools is proposing an average 3.5 percent increase for next year, while Radford City Schools is proposing a 3 percent increase.

Stafford noted the proposed increases for 375 teachers in the county range from $1,269 for a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree to $3,067 for a teacher with a doctorate and between 28 and 29 years of service.

Another $311,150 of the increased county funding being sought will go for 3 percent pay increases for 294 custodians, maintenance, bus drivers, school nurses, paraprofessionals, secretarial and administrative staff members.

Another $91,000 of the new funding would fund new pay scales and salary adjustments for bus drivers.

According to Stafford, a revised salary scale is necessary to keep the county competitive with surrounding localities, and noted the increased difficulty currently being experienced in finding bus drivers. He said the county could not afford to lose any more drivers to neighboring school divisions.

An estimated $250,000 of the additional county funding being requested would go to fund five new School Resource Officers (SROs) to provide security at the county’s five elementary schools.

Currently three SROs, funded totally by the Sheriff’s Office, are at the high school and both middle schools.

Stafford said plans are for the five new SROs to work at the elementary schools at least until capital improvement needs involving security in those schools can be addressed.

The rest of the $1.4 million being sought – about $81,000 – would fund a counselor for the Career and Technical Education Center at the high school.

Stafford said the counselor would work closely with local businesses and student interns to coordinate placement and ensure success, as well as working with employers to match student candidates for available positions.

The budget proposal does not include any money for capital improvement needs. The School Board recently produced a list of its top ten capital needs totaling some $4.9 million.

Nor does the proposal include any money for replacement school buses. Traditionally the School Board has tried to purchase at least three new school buses per year to replace older models.  However, Stafford and Jess Shull, Director of Operations, Transportation and Maintenance said five new buses are needed each year to maintain a 15-year replacement cycle. Shull said 21 of the school system’s buses are 17 to 20 years old, while two are over 20 years old.

By MIKE WILLIAMS, The Patriot

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