The Rappahannock County School Board adopted a $12.56 million 2015-2016 budget Monday night that would increase the county’s share of school-division expenses by about $94,000 — or just over 1 percent of the $9.089 million the county approved spending last year on its public schools.
After a joint public hearing, with school board and board of supervisors seated together at a table on stage at the high school auditorium, the board adjourned to its own public work session down the hall and unanimously (minus Wakefield member Chris Ubben, a sheriff’s deputy who was called into work after the public hearing) approved the final budget.
The supervisors hold their own hearing on the school portion of the budget at 7 p.m. Monday, April 27 in the high school auditorium. They’re expected to adopt the school budget — and any bottom-line amendments they may make — at their regular monthly meeting 2 p.m. Monday, May 4 at the courthouse.
The budget is available online at rappahannockschools.us. (Click on “Departments,” then “Finance,” then “Budget.”)
In a presentation at the public hearing, superintendent Donna Matthews explained that with projected slight increases in state funding in fiscal-year 2016 (which starts July 1), and by redistributing some federal funding that was otherwise “going to waste” (because it was not being fully appropriated and was thus lost to the school division), she was able to increase the school division’s spending by about $155,000 but still keep the county’s share of the increase to $94,000.
Overall by percentage, the school division’s administration costs rose most sharply — about 7 percent — due primarily to proposed increases to school board member compensation (from $100 to $200 a month, putting them on par with the supervisors’ monthly stipend). The budget also included funding for a decision the board made in November to pay up to $500 a month as a supplement toward individual health coverage for board members.
In contrast, instructional costs — by far the division’s biggest expense, an $8.64 million chunk of the new budget — went up only about 2 percent, or $157,000, over last year.
The budget, Matthews said, includes funding for a state-mandated 1.5-percent salary increases for certain school employees and for a 10.8-percent projected increase in health insurance rates.
It also includes $22,000 for a part-time athletic trainer — a decision debated at the previous two school board meetings and decided, by a 3-2 vote, at its budget work session earlier this month. At that meeting, board chair and Hampton district representative John Lesinski and Jackson district representative Amy Hitt (the latter being the most vociferous supporter of a full-time athletic trainer) were joined in approving the part-time trainer position by Stonewall-Hawthorne member Larry Grove. Ubben and Piedmont representative Aline Johnson voted against the trainer.
The budget also includes changes in other administrative positions, including splitting the current athletics/facilities director into two positions (and current athletic director Jimmy Swindler says he’s decided to become facilities director as of July 1). Other changes include the addition of an Academic Excellence Incentive program, with $5,000 funding split evenly between the high school and elementary schools, to supplement funding for academic-oriented field trips and special programs for academic clubs.
Fewer than a half dozen members of the public — not including school staff — were present at the hearing. Parent Eric Plaksin of Sperryville asked how the hiring of more outside contractors, mentioned by Matthews as a measure that also saved salary and benefit costs in the new budget, would provide better service.
County Administrator John McCarthy answered that contractors, who can provide a selection of workers with specific skills — for instance, maintaining the school’s many different HVAC systems — for less than it would cost, and with “much less hassle,” than what the school division and county tried to accomplish last year by hiring a full-time HVAC contractor. Once trained, McCarthy said, those staff HVAC maintenance persons went to work elsewhere for more money.
Matthews said the other sensible use of contractors is in building and maintaining the school division’s technology infrastructure. The costs have decreased significantly — in part because the school division is using special state funding earmarked for technology improvements — and the quality of support for teachers and staff has increased dramatically.