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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
Fax: 540-483-8013

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Supervisors front and center on funding, pay raise decision

Friday, March 15, 2013

A proposed pay raise for school employees that seemed to be on the table in the fall may now be off the table. Or at least that appeared to be the opinion of several members of the Franklin County Board of Supervisors during a meeting last week on the budget for fiscal year 2013-14.

During that meeting, several supervisors, with the exception of Blue Ridge District Supervisor Bobby Thompson and possibly Gills Creek Supervisor Bob Camicia, expressed no support for any tax increases for next year, which would seem to be a requirement before any significant pay raises for school employees could be given. Employees of county government, however, may see a pay raise as the county has proposed using part of an expected increase in revenue for that purpose.

The county may see just over $2 million in extra revenue next year from various collection increases. That money is proposed to be split with the school system, providing the county with just over $950,000, enough for a 3-percent pay raise for county employees. However, the $1 million the schools will receive falls short of the $3 million increase in county funding requested, with $1.6 million of that earmarked for a step increase (minimum of 2.5 percent) for school employees.

Although both county and school employees have received bonuses in recent years, no pay hike has been given for four years (2013-14 would be the fifth year). During meetings last fall, a pay hike was considered by the board for the current year, but supervisors voted to give full-time employees a $680 bonus and regular part-time employees $340.

At that time, several supervisors said a pay raise would be considered for fiscal year 2013-14. In fact, Boone District Supervisor Ronnie Thompson proposed the board give both county and school employees raises for the current year -- those who make more than $50,000 a year a 2.5-percent raise, and a 3.5-percent raise to those who make less than $50,000 annually. Mr. Thompson said the money for the raises would have to come from the county because the school system can't afford it. "They (school board) don't have the money," he said. "They are looking at laying off employees next year (2013-14), so I don't know where the money is going to come from (in the school budget)."

In the last few years, supervisors have been unable, or reluctant, to increase local funding for schools for several reasons. Obviously, cuts have been the order of the day as state funding has decreased, and there was a contentious relationship between the board of supervisors and the previous superintendent of schools. Board members made it clear they had no confidence in that superintendent's leadership and almost any request for more funding met with plenty of questions and misgivings.

But the school system is under new leadership, Dr. Mark Church, and administrators and supervisors alike have said openly that working with the new superintendent has been a "pleasure," and both boards also have a renewed, positive working relationship. As Dr. Church told the board Tuesday evening, it is his and the school board's responsibility to present the needs of the school system, not a wish list, but a list of real, critical needs.

That's all they can do since they don't have taxing power as many school boards do around the country. They must rely on the board of supervisors for local funding.

With some increase in funding from the state this year, as well as an expected increase in local revenue, the economic landscape has improved. But it has not gained enough to remedy several critical needs in the school system, including a pay raise.

Supervisors have some tough decisions to make, and we should all be mindful that their job is not easy. We should also remember that they want to do what is best for students and for all county residents, for that matter.

But our county and school employees have, by all accounts, done a stellar job in the face of all the recent cuts. They have appreciated the bonuses, but should they have to wait yet another year for a pay hike? And should the school system be put in a position to cut any more positions or jeopardize the continued quality of education?

This year, the proposed school budget was presented in a professional, by-the-numbers way with no political posturing or heart-strings drama. That's exactly what the supervisors have said they wanted.

It is now up to them to come up with a plan that is fair, responsible and appropriate. Please keep in mind that after a proposed budget is approved, a public hearing will be held to give residents a forum to provide input on that proposal. The big caveat regarding that public hearing is that the tax rates the board sets in the proposed budget cannot be increased after the public hearing, but they can be decreased.

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