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County schools seek funding increase

Friday, March 21, 2014

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Henry County Schools Superintendent Jared Cotton on Thursday recommended a fiscal 2014-15 budget that requests additional county funds of $476,847 (2.88 percent more) compared with the current year.

That $476,847 is $26,314 more than Cotton presented to the county supervisors on Feb. 25 because, according to his presentation Thursday, “House and Senate budgets include a note that the employee share of group life (insurance) has been revised to reflect current data from VRS (Virginia Retirement System).” Original estimates were based on the governor’s budget.

Cotton made Thursday’s presentation to the Henry County School Board.

Thirty-nine percent ($187,930) of the $476,847 is for three items that the school division has no choice but to fund, according to Cotton. They are $151,616 because of such things as an 8 percent increase in health insurance premiums and an increase in VRS rates from 11.66 percent to 14.5 percent, etc.; $26,314 (mentioned above) because of VRS group life percentage increase from governor’s budget to House and Senate versions from 1.24 percent to 1.32 percent; and $10,000 to cover increased fees due to raises provided by the county to school resource officers, according to Cotton’s presentation.

The other $288,917 of the request includes:

• $79,712 for three additional health office assistants to serve elementary schools. Cotton said these people are needed to dispense medications to students.

• $37,407 to adjust contracts of two curriculum staff employees from 10 months to 12 months.

• $52,116 restore a general maintenance position to support facilities/maintenance.

• $55,712 for a position to support budget/finance. Cotton said that because of the Affordable Care Act, the VRS hybrid plan and other things, there is extra work in that department.

• $60,740 to restore stipends for academic and athletic coaches to the 2011 “factor “ (basis), including FICA/Medicare.

• $3,230 to employ summer “student interns” for facilities/maintenance, mainly painting.

The recommended budget requests a total of $17,054,742 in county funds.

It continues a 2 percent pay raise for school division employees that was implemented in January using state funds for the first six months. Dawn Lawson, HCPS’ chief financial officer, estimated the cost of continuing the raise in 2014-15 at slightly more than $1 million.

The recommended budget projects an increase in state funding of about $1,739,497 (but an actual increase of $1,198,333 after taking into account an additional $541,164 in state funding for fiscal 2013-14 for the 2 percent raise implemented in January). State revenue for fiscal 2014-15 is projected at $45,648,202.

Funding from other sources is expected to increase about $31,000 in fiscal 2014-15, Cotton said.

Overall, the recommended budget, counting all sources of revenue, totals $73,520,944.

Iriswood District school board member Curtis Millner said he is glad to see a recommended budget based on the school division’s realistic needs, not one requesting level county funding. “If we don’t ask for what we need, we won’t get it,” he said.

The school division has had level county funding of $16,577,895 for this year and the two previous years, according to a budget document. The year before that, 2010-11, the school division received $17,077,895 in county funds.

School board members Francis Zehr of the Ridgeway District, Merris Stambaugh of the Collinsville District and Chairman Joe DeVault, member-at-large, all called it a “bare-bones budget.”

“Level funding doesn’t keep up with increased costs imposed on us,” Stambaugh also said. In such cases, level funding essentially amounts to a loss, he added.

The reasons for requesting additional county funding are “extremely reasonable,” Stambaugh said.

Zehr said Martinsville City Schools got what he considers a “huge increase” in local funding for fiscal 2013-14 and that school division is requesting a larger increase from the city for fiscal 2014-15 than Cotton’s recommended budget requests from Henry County.

On Monday, Martinsville Schools Superintendent Pam Heath presented a budget that seeks an additional $576,070 in city funds. That is part of the city budget proposal’s local appropriation of $6.9 million for operating funds.

Cotton said his recommended budget is based on the governor’s proposed budget, but the House and Senate had other budget versions, so it’s possible the school division could receive $20,000 to $80,000 in additional state funding.

The school board will consider approving the recommended budget at a meeting at 6 p.m. March 27.

In other business, Cotton said he was “very pleased” with Apple National Visit Day on Wednesday, which allowed the school division to showcase its award-winning technology program.

Representatives from the Pittsylvania, Franklin and Montgomery county and Danville school systems were among the approximately 40 people who attended. He said a number of school division officials told him, “You’ve got a great school division,” and that they hope to do some of the things HCPS has done.

“I was proud yesterday,” he said.

However, because of funding challenges, it’s becoming more and more difficult to remain on the cutting edge, he said.

 

 
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