School budget: State funds may be coming for bonus/pay raises

The Pulaski County School Board held its first budget work session Tuesday, hearing requests from principals and about proposed amendments to the state budget for the 2021-22 school year.

According to Assistant School Superintendent Chris Stafford, the state is in the second year of its biennial budget approved during last year’s session. So, during the current short session of the legislature, only amendments to the budget will be considered.

Stafford outlined amendments proposed by Gov. Ralph Northam that pertain to schools.

One of Northam’s proposals is for the state to fund its share of a one-time bonus payment of 2 percent for funded Standards of Quality (SOQ) instructional and support positions – clerical, maintenance, custodial, food service, office assistants, etc.

He said the funding will be provided to school divisions that certify to the State Department of Education that a 2 percent bonus or “equivalent action” – a 2 percent base salary increase – will be given to those in SOQ instructional and support positions.

If approved by the legislature, the state’s portion of the bonus/raise payment will be $310,413.

Stafford said the cost for a 2 percent bonus for all Pulaski County instructional and support staff would be $564,740 – with the local share of the cost being $254,327.

A 2 percent raise would cost $649,225, leaving the local share at $338,812 – and that would be a recurring expense, Stafford reminded.

A second proposal from the governor involves guidance counselors.

Stafford said Northam’s proposal is to reduce staffing ratios in all schools to 325 students to one counselor.

Currently the ratios are 455-to-1 in elementary schools, 370-to-1 in middle schools and 325-to-1 in high schools.

A third proposal would restore unallotted funds for Early Childhood Initiatives.

Stafford explained this action would increase the funded Virginia Preschool Initiative full-day per pupil amount from $6,326 to $7,655. Pulaski County would realize an increase of $79,550.

Finally, Stafford said the school system stands to gain $211,647 in No Loss funding, which helps supplement local school divisions for loss of funding due to enrollment losses because of COVID-19.

Stafford told board members the projected average daily membership (ADM) on which the 2021-2022 budget will be based is 3,807 students. That is 54 fewer than the current school year.

The decline, Stafford said, represents a “more manageable” decrease as far as budget impact is concerned compared to recent years.

The short session of the legislature is due to end February 11, however, Stafford noted 30-day short sessions are normally extended by 15 days. So far, he said, that extension has not occurred.

By MIKE WILLIAMS, The Patriot