The Franklin News-Post|
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
|Board has said $1 million extra may be available for schools|
Friday, March 15, 2013
By CHARLES BOOTHE - Staff Writer
Supervisors made no comments Tuesday evening after receiving the proposed school budget for fiscal year 2013-14.
That budget, detailed by schools superintendent Dr. Mark Church, includes a $3 million increase in the county's portion of the school system's operating budget.
The request also includes just over $2 million in funding for capital projects -- $350,000 for seed money for the proposed new career and technical education center, $628,000 for school safety upgrades and $1.2 million for 12 new school buses.
The total proposed school budget is $82.9 million, which includes $33 million in county funds.
Church told the board of supervisors that all requests are considered "critical to our school division and being able to move forward."
The board has already said just over $1 million in extra money may be available for schools next year because of an expected increase in revenue for the county, but no decision has yet been made on any further increase in funding for the schools.
During a meeting on the budget last week, some supervisors indicated a real estate tax hike would be needed for any more funding and that such a hike was unlikely to happen.
However, Blue Ridge District Supervisor Bobby Thompson said a small tax increase may be needed to help out the schools, as well as invest in economic development.
One of the hot-button issues in funding has been a pay raise for school employees.
Of the $3 million increase requested by the schools in operating funds, about $1.6 million would be used for a pay raise equivalent to one step increase on the schools' pay scale, or a minimum of 2.5 percent.
"We are at a critical time (in our school system)," Church said, explaining that with no pay increase in what will soon be five years, some good employees may be lost. "We have to do something about a pay increase."
In the past, school employees have routinely seen a step pay increase after each year of experience, often along with a local pay hike.
But all pay hikes were put on hold after the 2008 recession hit and state funding for schools was decreased dramatically.
The same is true for county government employees, but in the county's possible 2013-14 budget scenario, they would get a 3-percent pay raise.
Church said retaining positions is also part of the request for more funding, as well as adding a guidance counselor/social worker, two elementary guidance counselors and one behavior analyst/specialist to handle an autism program, and technology-related items.
"No one disagrees with our needs," he said. "It is our responsibility to provide you with (a list) of what we need if we are to move forward."
Church said the school system remains "outstanding," although it has been hit with massive cuts during the last few years, and everyone wants it to remain as one of the state's highest quality systems.
"But we've got to cover this (critical needs)," he said, referring to the proposal as a "stabilization" budget.
At the board of supervisors meeting last week, county Administrator Rick Huff and county Finance Director Vincent Copenhaver reviewed several possible budget scenarios for the county for fiscal year 2013-14.
One scenario maintained level funding with no tax hikes, while others included tax hikes of 1 to 3 cents on the real estate tax.
Each penny increase in the real estate tax, which is currently 54 cents on each $100 of assessed value, brings in about $627,000 annually.
For example, a homeowner whose house is assessed at $200,000 currently pays $1,080 a year in the real estate tax. Going from 54 cents to 56 cents would raise that bill $40, to $1,120, or less than 12 cents a day.
Last year, the board raised the real estate tax rate from 48 cents to 54 cents for the current fiscal year as a way to make up a projected $6.1 million shortfall. Most of that shortfall was the result of the 2012 reassessment.
With that reassessment, property values fell around the county by an average of 15.5 percent. In order to make up the difference, the county "equalized" the revenue from the real estate tax with the increase, providing level funding.
At that time, the board did consider raising the rate to 57 cents, but settled on the 54-cent rate.
The board of supervisors is scheduled to hear the county's recommended budget for fiscal year 2013-14 during its meeting Tuesday afternoon (March 19). A meeting to discuss the budget is planned for March 26.
After the proposed budget is finalized, a public hearing will be held.