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Cotton predicts more teachers
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Henry County Schools Superintendent Jared Cotton gives a budget outlook for fiscal year 2014 during the superintendent’s roundtable Tuesday at Laurel Park Middle School. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Henry County Schools Superintendent Jared Cotton predicted Tuesday the school division will gain a few teachers in fiscal 2014 because of a growth in student enrollment.

Cotton spoke at the superintendent’s budget roundtable at Laurel Park Middle School. Close to 15 people attended, including school officials.

Cotton indicated it hasn’t been determined exactly how many or where teachers would be added due to the enrollment increase.

In the current fiscal 2013 budget, enrollment is up slightly based on the Sept. 30, 2012, projected enrollment. The original FY 2013 budget was based on 6,995.2 students as opposed to 7,060 students currently estimated, according to Cotton’s presentation.

The governor’s proposed budget indicates an increase in state funds for the county schools from $44,858,196 in FY 2013 to $45,881,821 in FY 2014, an overall increase of $1,023,625.

Included in the $1,023,625 increase is $448,996 as the state’s share of a proposed 2 percent pay increase for all funded Standards of Quality (SOQ) positions. Taking the 2 percent raise out of the total increase, the school division’s actual increase is $574,629, mainly due to increased enrollment numbers, Cotton said.

According to the Office of Governor’s website, the 2 percent raise is contingent on passage of the Educator Fairness Act, which would extend the probationary window for teachers from three to five years, provide for a definition of incompetence to include one or more unsatisfactory performance evaluations, and define the relationship between the evaluation and the contract. It also would streamline the grievance procedure and allow for an expedited decision to inform the teacher of the final outcome.

SOQ positions include teachers, guidance counselors, librarians, instructional aides, principals and assistant principals.

Participation in the raises is optional but requires a local match to receive the state funding, according to the Office of the Governor. Cotton did not say if the county division would participate in the raises.

Cotton said the 2 percent raise would not cover all instructional positions. He said Henry County Schools, like other school divisions in Virginia, employs more instructional personnel than required under SOQ. In order to give all instructional personnel the 2 percent raise, some smaller school divisions have to cut staff, “which doesn’t make a lot of sense,” he said.

School officials are hopeful that sequestration, or across-the board federal budget cuts, will not occur, he said. Congress has delayed sequestration until March, giving it more time to try to work out a solution to the nation’s deficit problem, according to news reports.

The Henry County School Board previously passed a resolution that said, among other things, sequestration would impact education by a reduction in funds of 8.2 percent or more and could result in larger class sizes, fewer course offerings, possible four-day school weeks, loss of extracurricular activities, teacher and staff layoffs, and elimination of summer programs. It said sequestration would impact almost every public school system in the nation and the millions of students educated through programs such as Title 1 grants for disadvantaged students, the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), English Language Acquisition, career and technical education, 21st century community learning centers and more.

Cotton said other budget considerations include: health insurance premiums (the school division won’t know the rate until February); increasing utility costs; unstable fuel costs; the expiration of all federal stimulus funding; and the slow economic recovery, which is putting a strain on local funding.

It is fortunate that the school board spent its stimulus money on one-time expenses, not for ongoing expenses, Cotton said. Some school divisions that used stimulus money for ongoing expenses, such as personnel costs, are having problems now, he said.

The school division continues to examine programs to see if there are underutilized or ineffective ones and what additional areas it needs to focus on to ensure it will produce globally competitive students. The school division is continuing to research and implement cost-saving measures in energy use, consumption of resources and other areas. The division also is examining ways to enhance its ability to attract, recruit and retain a diverse, well-trained workforce, Cotton said. It also is continuing to invest in technological infrastructure.

He praised the Henry County School Board for fully implementing a 5 percent employee raise last year to offset a 5 percent employee contribution to the Virginia Retirement System rather than phasing it in over five years. Both options were allowed under Virginia requirements. Cotton said the school board wanted to take care of the matter and not have to figure out how to find funding every year if it were phased in over several years. He previously said the 5 percent raise that was given to offset the change in VRS has helped Henry County Schools attract educators.

Last year, Henry County government officials criticized the school board for fully implementing the 5 percent raise in fiscal 2013, saying it would cost hundreds of thousands dollars more than implementing it over five years.

 

 
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