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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
540-483-5113
Fax: 540-483-8013

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Few residents attend public hearing on school budget

Friday, March 7, 2014

By STACEY HAIRSTON - Staff Writer

Only a few residents spoke during a public hearing Tuesday night for the Franklin County School Division's proposed 2014-15 budget, which includes a list of 18 priorities for school officials.

"These 18 items are not our only needs," said Dr. Mark Church, school superintendent. "They are things we have to have, things we really need to help our school system move forward and remain competitive."

At the top of that list is over $2 million in state mandates, including Virginia Retirement System (VRS) rate increases for employee retirement, group life insurance, retiree health care credits and additional educational programs.

Even with an additional $1 million from the state and $600,000 from the county for fiscal year 2014-15, the school division will still be $268,000 short of paying for those mandates.

In all, the school division is requesting an additional $4.3 million in county funding, above the $38 million in county funds in the current budget.

Although school board members said they support all the items on the list, they are aware that many of those items will remain unfunded, including $355,000 for two pre-K teachers, two teacher assistants and an alternative education center that school board members hope will help raise Franklin County's faltering on-time graduation rate.

Members of the board have also discussed $1.5 million in possible pay raises for teachers, teacher assistants and practical nurses. The school board is considering a 1.5 percent, one-step pay increase for school employees in next year's budget. Last year, school employees received a minimum 2.5-percent pay hike, their first raise in four years.

"We really need to be competitive with staff pay," said Church, adding that a lot of education is required of staff members, and in order to keep competent teachers, the school system needs to honor its word to employees.

Other priorities on the list include two elementary guidance counselors, three social workers and an autism behavior analyst, all at a cost of $358,000.

"We are seeing a lot of negativity from the cutting of social workers last year," said Church. "We've had a lot of students coming to us with (social and behavioral) issues, but when you don't have the budget, you have to make cuts. Children are coming to us with all different types of problems, and we need to be able to handle that."

The school board will also request two administrators, one for the high school and one for the middle school ($190,700), to help curb discipline problems and address the need for help in the athletic department.

"Since 2008, the school system has cut 78 positions," Church said, noting that 78 positions would be enough to staff two elementary schools.

School board members have also expressed the need to prioritize technology in the school division by proposing an expenditure of $140,000 for an email archiving system and planning for electronic textbooks and online education. Two technology resource teachers will also be requested at a cost of $108,000.

Other concerns on the list of priorities include $1.1 million to replace 12 school buses.

The school board is scheduled to adopt the budget at its monthly meeting on March 10. Then the budget will be presented to the Franklin County Board of Supervisors on March 11.

Supervisors are considering tax hikes -- 2 cents on the real estate tax and an undetermined amount on the personal property tax. The current real estate tax rate is 54 cents on each $100 of assessed value.

Each 1-cent increase on the real estate tax will raise about $635,000.

Supervisors have discussed a scenario that would give the school system $635,000, the county $635,000 and any money raised with the personal property tax would be set aside for major upcoming projects, including a new career and technical center for the schools.

As the budget stands for the county and schools for next year without a tax increase, they are facing a total shortfall of about $900,000 just to pay for all of the mandates.

 
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