By MIKE WILLIAMS
The Pulaski County School Board on Tuesday approved what is likely to be just the first version of its school budget for next fiscal year.
This initial version of the budget seeks just over $2 million in additional local funding from the Pulaski County Board of Supervisors.
The school board is required by state code to provide the supervisors by April 1 with an estimate of what the school system will need to operate in the next fiscal year.
As is normally the case each year, the school board had to submit this first version of its budget without final state funding figures.
Both the House of Delegates and State Senate passed their own versions of the state budget during the last session of the General Assembly, and the Governor also proposed his own set of amendments.
The House and Senate must now compromise on a final budget bill to send to the Governor before localities will know exactly what they will receive in state funding.
Until then, the school budget makes use of state revenue figures according to the House budget since it is the more conservative of the two. It’s likely once a deal is reached on school funding in Richmond, Pulaski County will actually receive more in state funding – thus lowering the additional funding to be requested from the county.
Until then, however, the $66.8 million school budget proposal approved Tuesday includes $33.1 million in state funds, $15.7 million in federal funds, $18 million in county funds ($2 million more than this year) and nearly $1 million more in “other” funds.
The $2 million in additional county funds being sought would cover the cost of four items in the school budget.
- A total decrease in state funding of $628,504: The state funding for next year’s school budget is based on an Average Daily Membership of 3,688 students. That is 143 students less than the current year. While school officials have their doubts enrollment will decline to that degree, 3,688 is the number it must use for state funding.
Interestingly, the Weldon Cooper Center at the University of Virginia provides numbers to Virginia localities pertaining to school enrollment. Recently, local school officials requested the center to do a projection on Pulaski County’s enrollment over the next five years. (See below)
It was noted during a recent budget work session that the center found Pulaski County’s trend as “not currently very favorable” over the next five years, with enrollment possibly dropping below 3,500 students by 2028.
The projection was made using demographic trends in birth rates and grade progression ratios.
- The local share of the cost of 7 percent raises for teachers and staff: The state is providing $1.4 million in incentive funding for 7 percent raises for Standards of Quality (SOQ) positions. Raises for those staff members who fill non-SOQ positions must be paid for locally, and the cost to do that is $1.2 million.
- $100,000 for higher transportation fuel costs.
- $100,000 for higher electricity costs.
At Tuesday’s school board meeting, Pulaski County Education Association President Candace Castelluccio spoke out about the need for raises.
She said members of the PCEA had been polled about the affects of inflation and the need for pay raises.
She said 96 percent of the PCEA members responded that inflation has affected their financial decisions and planning.
She said 77 percent of membership responded that not receiving a raise next year would create or continue a financial hardship for them.
Castelluccio said 65 percent of association members said not getting a raise next year would cause them to at least look for other employment or consider retiring. She noted 19 percent of members responded they are “already looking.”
“These numbers are frightening to me and I assume to you all as well,” Castelluccio told the school board members.
Castelluccio said the teachers’ responses were not just about numbers. “It is personal,” she said, providing each board member with an 11-page document containing all the comments she had received from poll respondents describing how inflation has hurt, and how not getting a raise would impact them.
“These numbers reflect real people, real families with real struggles,” Catelluccio said.
“Offering a raise to our teachers and staff should not be a hope or a wish, but a reality and a priority of both boards,” she said, noting she plans to make the same presentation in the future to the Board of Supervisors.
Before approving the budget, school board members and School Superintendent Dr. Kevin Siers spoke.
“These are all needs. There are no ‘wants’ in this budget,” Siers said.
“There’s no fluff here,” said Cloyd District’s Bill Benson. “We’re asking to keep our teachers. We’re asking for monies to keep our kids warm and to get our kids to school.
“The county has been very good to us as far as capital improvements are concerned, and they have provided money for our buildings to be brought back up to standard. But buildings don’t teach kids, teachers teach kids and we’ve got to keep our teachers,” he said.
Draper District’s Tim Hurst said many folks in the county don’t understand the local match needed for raises.
“Without that $1.2 million in local match, we’re not able to give any raises. The county needs to understand that and our citizens need to understand it.
“This budget provides a competitive salary scale for the employees of Pulaski County Public Schools, most of whom live in Pulaski County, most of whom pay taxes in Pulaski County,” Hurst said.
“We knew this year that our request was going to be a large request. We have stated this for three years. We knew this was going to happen. We stated it three years ago during a joint meeting with the Board of Supervisors. Without any increase from the county … and we’ve basically been flat for three years. We’ve got a wonderful agreement with the Board of Supervisor on capital improvements. We really do, and I’m grateful for that. Our schools are in the best shape they’ve been since I’ve been on this board for the last nine years.
“But we’ve kind of put ourselves in a tough position here – without the additional funding – basically any additional funding for the past three years – this is where we’re at,” he said.
“I believe right now the county has a $2 million placeholder – if I’m not mistaken – for a recreation center that we hope to build sometime in the future. We’ve got teachers that need to be paid today, not sometime in the future. So, I hope the county will take that into consideration.”
“If we don’t come up with the local match, then we’re leaving $1.3 million of state funding on the table,” chimed in Siers. “That’s money that would come into Pulaski County in the form of salaries for our employees.”
Robinson District’s Dr. Paige Cash asked how Pulaski County’s teacher pay fares compared to surrounding counties.
“At one point about eight years ago, we got close to the top,” responded Siers. “Since then, we have been striving to stay in the middle. We don’t want to be the lowest in the region, but a year or two after Pulaski County revamped its salary scales, Radford shot above us, Montgomery County shot above us and other localities are above us at different points of their salary scales. But we have tried to stay at the region average each year.”
“So we’re right in the middle, so if we don’t give raises this year will that put us at the bottom,” asked Cash.
“I would imagine so,” responded Siers.
“So compared to the surrounding counties, Pulaski County would not be investing as much as they do in their teachers and their children,” Cash asked.
“Yes, that’s correct,” Siers responded.
Board Chairman Beckie Cox said when the General Assembly and the Governor mention a pay increase for teachers, the public should understand that means they will send part of the money for those raises and the locality has to come up with the rest of the money.
She said it’s that way because, “There is supposed to be a local investment in education.”
“That’s how the system is designed. That’s how it is supposed to work. So, when we put together a budget, and we go and ask for additional funds, we’re asking for additional investment in education. And that’s exactly what we have here now.”
Following discussion, the board voted unanimously to approve the budget proposal.