The WC School Board presented its FY19 budget recommendation on March 7, one day after the county supervisors worked with a flat public school budget number from last year. Royal Examiner File Photo
FRONT ROYAL – The Warren County School Board has approved a budget request with a nearly $2-million increase in local funding from Warren County. The number presented prior to a unanimous March 7 vote of approval on a motion by James Wells, seconded by Doug Rosen, show a local appropriation request of $25,329,914. That amount is $1,848,750 above the school budget appropriation number of $23,481,164 the County had plugged into its revenue/expenditure estimates at a Board of Supervisors work session the previous day, March 6.
And while it appeared that $23.48-million estimate had a $60,000 hike above the current fiscal year’s $23,421,164 local appropriation to public schools, school system explained, and County Finance Director Andre Fletcher verified, that $60,000 was included in the FY2018 school budget for rental space tied to the CSA program but had been included as a separate line item last year. So actually the number used by county staff on March 6 was flat from the current fiscal year.
The actual School Board request will not be happy news for a county board already wrestling with an estimated $1.2-million revenue deficit with the numbers it was using on March 6, the day before the School Board recommended a budget tacking another $2-million onto that projected County revenue deficit. A board majority appears to favor approving a budget with no tax increase this year after last year’s 3-cent hike approved by a divided board to fund operations at the new middle school.
And as Royal Examiner reported in coverage of the supervisors March 6 budget work session, the General Fund balance has already fallen below the recommended 15% of the annual budget mark. That projected $13-million general fund balance is just 12.37% of the FY 2018 $105.6-million county budget. Utilizing the general fund to balance an even higher county budget by further raiding reserves could push that fund balance precariously close to single digits. Such a trend would negatively impact the County’s past favorable bond rating, leading to higher future interest rates on any future bond issues for capital improvements.
Major increases (over $40,000) on the table in the recommended public school budget, include:
– a 2% salary increase for all full-time contracted employees ($763,323);
– a STEP increase for all eligible employees ($505,351) – it was noted during discussion that it has been a decade since the last STEP increase;
– a 10% increase for supplemental activities like coaching ($46,127) – like the STEP increase, a decade or more since the last raise here;
– a $78,500 increase in the school bus repair and maintenance budget;
– a $100,000 increase in contracted facilities maintenance service budgets;
– and a total of $1,123,321 in health insurance increases – of that number, $784,699 is a 20% hike to employer costs, and $338,622 is the school system picking up 15% of the employee’s 20% cost increase.
The total of all those increases is $2,438,122. Other smaller increases raise the total additions to the School Board budget to $2,780,695. The bright side may be the fact that the school board is only asking for an increase of $1,848,750 in local appropriations, apparently finding either other revenue sources or expenditure cuts elsewhere in the budget to cover $931,945 of the total increase sought.
The justification for all the employee-related increases is the ongoing issue of presenting a competitive salary and benefit package to retain staff, particularly an experienced and highly competent teaching staff, to populate all the system’s new and renovated school buildings. As one sage observer said after last year’s split 3-2 vote (Fox, Sayre dissenting) approving a County budget with a tax hike to fund the new middle school’s operational budget, “State-of-the-art schools don’t make much sense without state-of-the-art education going on inside them.”
Factoring in all the recommended increases, the public school system’s total budget request from all revenue sources – local, federal and state, the latter based on the governor’s proposal – is now $56,771,798.