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County school officials discuss budget

Friday, January 24, 2014

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Henry County School Board members will be asked for recommendations and directions on the school division’s fiscal 2015 budget in upcoming meetings.

Schools Superintendent Jared Cotton said Thursday he will be meeting with school board members two at a time to discuss some budget matters.

Those will include some recommendations and to get their direction on certain matters, such as whether they want to budget for the implementation of random student drug testing for students involved in Virginia High School League-sanctioned extracurricular activities.

Cotton made his comments at a school board public hearing on 2015 school budget priorities. No one spoke at the meeting.

Iriswood District school board member Curtis Millner asked about the possibility of funding, such as grants, to hire school resource officers for elementary schools.

Cotton said there were a number of reasons why the school division did not seek a state grant to hire an elementary school resource officer, including requirements that the officer would have to be assigned to one school, rather than being shared by elementary schools, and state funding would have decreased each year and local funding would have increased.

Cotton said the division did apply for a grant for an officer for the Center for Community Learning, but that doesn’t mean the division will get it.

He said in an interview after the meeting he will wait for direction from the board before deciding whether to budget for school resource officers for elementary schools.

Cotton reviewed parts of a funding presentation he made at the school board’s Jan. 9 meeting.

The presentation said, among other things, for the current FY 2014 budget, enrollment is down slightly based on the Sept. 30, 2013, projected enrollment. The FY 2014 budget is based on enrollment of 7,064.2 students, but the Sept. 30, 2013, enrollment as reported to the Virginia Department of Education was 7,013 students, according to the presentation.

“Governor’s budget released (on Dec. 16, 2013) indicates an increase from the state in our approved budget of $43,908,705 for FY 2014 to $45,648,202, an overall increase of $1,739,497,” the presentation added. “For FY2014 we had an additional appropriation of $541,164 to our budget for the 2 percent raise (for all staff), which began Jan. 1, 2014. This would bring our overall increase in revenues from the state down to $1,198,333.”

According to the presentation, retirement costs have increased for FY201, and the rate for health insurance premiums should be known by late January. Cotton said the division is estimating an increase of 15 percent for health insurance premiums but hopes it will be less.

The presentation also cited a continued increase in utility costs, instability of fuel costs and “continued challenge to find funding to meet our increasing capital needs.”

“Local funding level continues to be challenged due to economic situation,” it added.

In other business Thursday, Cotton said representatives of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents will present recommendations of a study of Henry County Public Schools (HCPS) salaries and salary practices at the school board’s March meeting. He said there will be a lot of recommendations but there will be no way the division will be able to implement them all at once. Priorities will have to be set and recommendations implemented over time, he added.

Board Chairman Joe DeVault cited a need for information showing this area’s low cost of living compared with some other parts of the commonwealth, and Ridgeway District school board member Francis Zehr agreed. Cotton said his staff will gather some information, which would be useful in recruiting,

Also, some board and school division officials said they hope there will be good interest in a firefighting/EMT academy that the school division, in partnership with Patrick Henry Community College, plans to offer as part its high school course of studies for 2014-2015.

It will be a dual enrollment program for juniors and seniors. Officials said a previous firefighting/EMT training program offered in HCPS ended because of inadequate numbers of students.


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