Extra $250K budgeted for schools

Published 11:38 am Wednesday, May 17, 2017

No tax increases and an additional $250,384 in local money for public schools are part of the proposed fiscal year (FY) 2017-18 operating budget for Lunenburg County.

During the Thursday meeting county supervisors voted to advertise the budget, discussing the request of Lunenburg County school officials to increase its budget funds from the county by nearly $795,000, providing an alternative recommendation.

The $250,384 recommended increase is more than $544,000 less than the $794,786 school officials requested in March.

District One Supervisor T. Wayne Hoover spoke on behalf of the financial committee. He said the increased funding would be enough to give school staff a 2-percent raise without raising taxes.

In a statement Monday afternoon, Division Superintendent Charles Berkley Jr. said the school board’s proposed budget “was based on ‘needs only’ and the county failed to provide and fulfill sufficient funding to keep our school system operating,” he said in response to the county’s proposed budget. “We are doing the best we can to manage our current budget without impacting classrooms and academics.”

Berkley noted that larger enrollments for area schools, particularly of special-needs students and increasing state mandates for retirement and health insurance, have increased costs for the school division.

He said if the proposed budget is adopted, the division will have to take measures to further cut costs, including potential job cuts, cuts to dual-enrollment funding for students attending Southside Virginia Community College and delay capital improvement projects.

“In an effort to cut costs, the school system has not taken on any capital improvements, has deferred purchasing school buses and has not replaced some school personnel who have left the system and added more duties and assignments to current staff,” Berkley said.

“(There is) no more meat on the bone to scrape off. We are operating on a ‘bare bones’ budget,” he said.

“I want to thank the many teachers that are here that have sent us emails (and) correspondence. We certainly appreciate that,” Hoover said during the meeting. “I’ve gotten just as many emails from teachers and staff as I have from residents.”

The school’s initial request would have resulted 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.

Hoover thanked teachers participating during the

meeting and members of the community for their input.

Hoover said that the school’s request came during an already difficult budget year that required several changes to county government, including switching to a new health care provider to combat rising costs.

“That has not been an easy task,” Hoover said. “It has been hours and hours and hours. We know the school needed the money, and we’ve given every nickel we possibly can at this time.”

He said that the more than $250,000 came from the proposed budget’s general fund reserves.

‘“Unfortunately, at this time, we cannot fund that amount based on what we have,” Hoover said, later adding, “I will also say on the other side of the coin, we’re able to give that additional quarter million without a tax increase this year.”

After the meeting, Hoover commented that the funds reflected area public schools’ largest asset — its teachers and staff.

“Berkley had given us a number, and that (more than) $250,000 that we allocated should be enough to give all of the teachers and all of the employees a 2-percent raise, and we thought that was our No. 1 priority,” Hoover said. “The school system is only as good as the staff that run it, and we wanted to make sure that if we can’t give it all, that we at least give what we can to those administrators.”

Without the full requested $794,786, the division won’t able to hire the nine employees it had planned, five of which would be teachers.

During the meeting, County Administrator Tracy Gee discussed several changes in the county’s revenue and expenses in the budget.

Revenue changes, she said, include increases in real estate tax collections and changed expenses include an upgrade the county’s telephone services and switching to a new health care provider for the county.

Real estate tax collections, Gee said, would increase by $10,000 from last year, pointing to comparisons of similar increases in surrounding counties.

Personal property tax collections are also set to increase by $15,000 and public service tax collections would increase by $45,000, Gee said.

Gee said the decision to find alternative health care programs came after finding that the insurance renewal from current provider Optima Health came at a 39 percent increase of premiums from the current fiscal year.

An alternative provider, The Local Choice, would be a more cost-effective option for the county, Gee said.

Gee noted the decision to reconsider its health care provider was a decision made in the best interests of the county and its employees.

“This was not a decision that was made lightly,” Gee said. “This was a lengthy process and a lengthy discussion among all parties. So we tried to weigh all options, but we wanted to do what was best for the staff as well as the county.”

A public hearing will be held Thursday, June 1 at 6 p.m. in the General District Courtroom at the Lunenburg Courts Building prior to supervisors making a final decision on the proposed budget, which is expected to take place on June 8 at 6 p.m. during supervisors’ regularly scheduled meeting.