Proposed school budget keeps county’s share to last year’s level

Between the February and March school board meetings, Rappahannock County School Superintendent Dr. Aldridge Boone cut an additional $180,000 from what is now an $11.6 million proposed budget for the 2011-2012 school year.

The budget, which asks no more county funds than were requested last year — $8.5 million — followed a long-standing suggestion from Boone that the school board and supervisors meet for a work session to iron out any remaining issues.

That meeting was to take place this Wednesday night, after press time; details can be found in next week’s Rappahannock News.

The revised budget Boone presented to the school board at its regular monthly meeting March 8 included a revenue summary that projected income from the state would rise 4 percent, and federal funding 1.3 percent. But the overall increase would be less than a percent, since county funding comprises almost 73 percent of the school district’s total budget — and that would be remaining the same.

Boone said the many members of the public made it known to him prior to the March 8 meeting that they shared his priority to award all school employees a one-time $500 bonus — which remains untouched in the budget.

The position of athletic director also remains funded in the revised budget, and Boone said the director’s responsibilities will be the same as in the past.

Also kept in the budget, Boone said, is furnishing laptop computers to all teachers. However, instead of spending $75,000 to purchase laptops, Boone favors leasing computers, which spreads the purchase cost out over three years. The county would pay $23,000 a year for three years, with an option to buy.

Converting the existing land-line telephone system to Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) system, a proposal based on AT&T’s plan to build a cellular tower near the high school and provide other internet-access improvements, will significantly reduce communication costs. The telephone bill now ranges from $3,000 to $4,000 each month. With a VOIP system, monthly charges are expected to be about $534.

Originally, Boone allotted $81,000 for textbook purchases. That amount has been cut to $59,000. Boone has developed several options to make necessary books available to students.

Maintenance staff salary, which has been split between the school and county budgets in the past, will now be paid by the county, Boone said.
Other actions included saving $15,000 by canceling plans to purchase a truck with an attached snowplow.

The public was to have a chance to comment on the budget at the Wednesday night work session. March 16 at 7:00 p.m. In a joint work session with the board of supervisors. County Administrator John McCarthy recalled this week that Boone last fall made the proposal that the two boards schedule such a work session last fall.

Also on the agenda at the school board’s March 8 meeting, following the budget public hearing, were Boone’s proposed changes to the next two school-year calendars. The board deferred voting on proposed changes to the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 school calendar to give parents more time to offer opinions.

Boone observed that so far, objections focus on the proposal to start school two weeks early, on Aug. 15.

Amy Hitt, president of the Rappahannock County School Sports Association (RCSSA), told the board that she prefers delaying implementation until August 2012.

“I have a $3,000 house rented that I can’t get out of,” Hitt said. She is also concerned about the August heat beating down on students during outdoor activities.

In consideration of parents trying to finalize holiday plans, School Board Chairman Wes Mills acknowledged the need to determine when the school year will commence.

Boone’s objective in starting the school year early is to complete the first semester before the holiday break. Now, to prepare for semester exams, teachers and students must refresh memories of lessons before the holiday.

The board also expressed concern that the $1.5 million project to upgrade facilities in schools and county buildings will be completed by mid-August. The project is scheduled to start June 15. Removal of asbestos encapsulated in ceilings of the high school will start July 1.

(At its montly meeting March 7, the day before the school board met, the county board of supervisors authorized hiring a part-time clerk to coordinate the repair work. McCarthy said this week that the details of that hiring would also be discussed at this Wednesday’s work session.)

Boone offered the solution that, if necessary, the school would find new meeting spaces for classes to allow work to be completed.
Boone’s plan would move the spring break to the first week of March, and retain Good Friday as a holiday. This offers six weeks, as opposed to the current one week, to prepare for testing after students and teachers return. Any required makeup days for bad weather will be taken out of the spring break.

“I’ve never seen the logic in making up snow days in June,” Boone said.

In other actions at the school board’s March 8 meeting, teachers Shannon Grimsley and Melissa Delcour presented comparisons between the Cambridge Program and the Pre-Ap program. Twenty-nine ninth- and tenth-graders take the Cambridge course. Both programs offer a greater challenge than basic courses.

Rappahannock’s goal was to fully implement the Cambridge program in grades six through 10. However, student interest has been less than hoped.

Grimsley prefers the Cambridge program, but only if it is fully implemented.

Costs of the Pre-AP Program, know as SpringBoard, are less than the Cambridge. Just maintaining Rappahannock as a Cambridge site would cost $5,600.

The Pre-AP Program is a feeder program into English and mathematics AP classes. While there is no fee, Rappahannock would incur teacher training and curriculum costs.

Grimsley, Delcour and board members discussed making the Pre-AP courses the baseline for all students.

To offer higher-level instruction in other subjects, such as music, art and theater, Rappahannock teachers would have to create honors course.

“We would own the curriculum,” Boone said.

Hitt and John Diley praised the Cambridge program as experienced by their children.

“It’s really critical to maintain our stride,” Mills said, speaking to the challenge of maintaining quality of instruction in difficult financial times.

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About Alisa Booze Troetschel 30 Articles
By some folks' standards, Alisa Booze Troetschel is a newcomer. She moved to northwest Virginia two years ago after completing graduate studies at the Missouri School of Journalism. She has photographed, written and edited for local, regional and national magazines and newspapers, while delighting in the beauty surrounding her new home.