The Rappahannock County School Board approved a lease-purchase agreement that will bring five new Thomas school buses to town in time for the 2013-2014 school year – the final budget for which the board also adopted at its work session last Friday morning (May 24).
A $12.47-million bottom line approved by supervisors last month required the school board to cut $145,000 from its proposed budget; in earlier work sessions, board members had unanimously agreed to leave untouched a 3-percent across-the-board raise for teachers and staff, instead focusing on other areas.
Friday morning, interim superintendent Kathleen Grove presented the board with another list of recommended cuts, some of which had already been implemented. (The board had previously decided to cut $113,024 for an unnamed central office position and save another $13,868 by modifying the athletic director’s position to include acting as a facilities supervisor.)
The other major focus of this year’s budget was replacing the school division’s aging bus fleet, which administration director Robert Stump has said is one of the state’s oldest. Ten of Rappahannock’s 27 buses are at least 15 years old, and 11 are between 14 and 20 years old. The school board had built $155,022 into the budget to allow them to start replacing two school buses every year, with help from a federal grant program.
Jackson district board member Amy Hitt presented the board with an offer from Sonny Merriman, a Virginia bus dealership, to lease 10 new Thomas buses to Rappahannock for less than the $155,022 already budgeted for transportation costs.
That suggestion was temporarily tabled, however, so school board members could discuss the plan with county supervisors. Grove said the outcome of that meeting – which included Grove, Hitt, school board chairman John Lesinski, Jackson district supervisor Ron Frazier, supervisors’ chairman Roger Welch and County Administrator John McCarthy – was a consensus to lease five buses over a five-year period, rather than the proposed 10.
“This bus decision really drives everything else, no pun intended,” remarked Lesinski.
Grove presented the board with a plan outlining the replacement schedule established by leasing five buses for $77,385: Five buses would be replaced in time for the new school year, with an additional new bus being purchased every year through 2020, when five more buses could be leased.
“One problem [with 10 buses] is postponing a future issue for other boards,” said Grove. Hitt pointed out that this added a line item to future budgets and established a replacement schedule for future boards to follow.
“It’s a good plan,” said Hitt. “We just have to make sure future boards know not to touch it. It’s not a piggy bank to break into.”
“I just like the idea of having things paid for,” said Aline Johnson, who said she never agreed with the idea of leasing 10 buses for $150,000. Johnson advocated for purchasing two new buses annually, but agreed to lease five if the other board members believed it was the best decision.
Board member Paul Brown agreed that he was “on board” with the decision to lease, but suggested that the board consider hiring “an outside source to look at our transportation fleet . . . and how we run our routes,” adding that there may be money to save by reevaluating the way the fleet is run.
After agreeing to lease the five buses, cut the central office position and add facilities-related responsibilities to the athletic director – cuts totalling $30,735 more than what the supervisors asked – the board turned to deciding what to do with the remaining funds.
Grove’s suggestions included repairing the school system’s 14-passenger bus ($2,400), allocating more funding to Advanced Placement (AP) testing to accommodate more students wishing to take the college-preparatory exams ($10,000) and adopting new state-mandated textbooks for the high school math and science programs ($18,335).
Hitt requested that a separate line item be added to the budget ($2,000) to cover staff appreciation and other school board-related items. Grove suggested the easiest way to accomplish that was to take $2,000 from the textbook replacement fund, knocking it down to $16,335 (book prices have not been set yet).
The board agreed to all those decisions, 4-0, with Wakefield district member Chris Ubben absent, thus finalizing their 2013-2014 budget.