Examining the school’s request

Published 9:17 am Wednesday, May 3, 2017

School officials in Lunenburg County are seeking nearly $795,000 in additional funding from the Lunenburg County Board of Supervisors as part of the ongoing fiscal year (FY) 2017-18 budget process — money that, if granted, would result in a 2-percent raise for school employees and the hiring of additional staff members, in addition to covering increasing retirement and health insurance costs.

On Thursday, May 11, the school may have another chance to state its case for the request.

The next budget hearing will take place then in Central High School at 1 p.m. in Room 104.

James Abernathy, executive assistant to the superintendent, said the additional $794,785 comes from state-mandated increases in teachers’ retirement plans in addition to increased health care costs.

Division Superintendent Charles Berkley reiterated what he told the board of supervisors during the last budget meeting March 30.

“All of these (measures) are important,” Berkley said, noting that much of what makes up the requested amount was calculated from state or federal mandates that the schools would not be able to avoid.

“It comes back to the local board to come up with these fundings,” Berkley said.

One mandate is an increase in retirement rates for employees, which rose from its current monthly rate of 14.66 percent to 16.32 percent. The increases for the employees is set to cost the division $236,856, Berkley said.

Regarding the increase for additional funding, Abernathy pointed out a nearly 20 percent increase in the cost of health insurance under the division’s current health care provider.

After shopping for different insurance companies,

the lowest bid offered would still raise the cost by 12 percent, Abernathy said.

Abernathy said the requested funds would also provide a 2-percent pay increase that division employees have not received, unlike surrounding counties.

The funding would also result in the hiring of additional staff members, he said.

Abernathy said teachers did not receive a 2-percent raise that other teachers in surrounding counties had received, and a portion of the requested funds would go toward meeting that goal, costing more than $231,000, Abernathy said.

However, if state funding falls short, the figure could be closer to $327,000, Berkley said.

Berkley said that the division was one of 12 school divisions in the state to have not received a 2-percent pay increase. Berkley worries that if the division is unable to provide the pay increase this year, staff — including teachers — would leave in favor of better pay.

“I know we will lose teachers to neighboring counties,” Berkley said.

In addition to providing pay raises to teachers and employees, Abernathy and Berkley said the division is also seeking to hire additional staff due to higher student enrollment rates and a higher rate of special education students.

The funding proposal includes five teachers. Two would teach at Victoria Elementary School, one at Kenbridge Elementary School, one at Lunenburg Middle and one at Central High School.

Four additional positions would include a maintenance employee, a clerical worker, an instructional data specialist and an instructional administrative assistant, which Abernathy said totals about $471,000.

Lastly, Abernathy said the division wanted to request as many school buses as possible, which would come up to $77,000 each. However, Berkley said the $77,000 for the bus and the close to $1 million to replace an HVAC unit at one of the schools was not included in the proposed funding request.

Abernathy said most of the additional funding, or over half of a million of it, comes from costs that are unavoidable, particularly state-mandated measures including rising retirement rates and rising health insurance costs.

“We’re looking at half a million dollars right there,” Abernathy said.

Without the funds, Abernathy said budget cuts may be possible, though he said he would need to consult with Berkley.

He said the division’s main focus was to support student instruction. The next is to keep a competitive rate for teachers compared with other counties, Abernathy said.

“What we want to do is support the students instructionally as much as we can,” Abernathy said. “And for the health insurance and retirement funds, we want to remain competitive salary-wise with our neighbors.”

Abernathy offered his thanks to the Lunenburg County Board of Supervisors for working with the school board in its request for additional funding.

This article has been edited from its original version. 

James Abernathy