School budget, calendar will look familiar in 2012

As it did for the current school year, the 2011-2012 school year will begin on Aug. 24.

At a work session last Wednesday (March 16), after turning over to supervisors a 2012 budget that requests no increase in county funding over this year, the Rappahannock County School Board approved a calendar for next year that is also similar to the current calendar — postponing most of the changes recommended by superintendent Aldridge Boone until the following year.

Board members Rosa Crocker and Meredith Gorfein voted against approval, preferring Boone’s plan to start school Aug. 15, which would allow students to complete the semester before the Christmas holiday break. As it is now, and will be next year, teachers and students must revisit lessons learned before the holiday to prepare for end-of-term exams.

The board’s vote was unanimous, however, to accept Boone’s proposed 2011-2012 budget of $11.68 million, a slight increase over the current year’s $11.5 million (due primarily to small expected increases in state and federal funds). The vote now puts the budget in the hands of supervisors — one of whom was sitting next to each school board member at the work session.

“I think we’ve turned the page on how we work together,” said school board member Beth Hilscher, who has also served on a joint committee of school and county officials charged with finding the best way to make needed school repairs and upgrades over the last two years. “Not only about the budget, but with the facilities too.”

After the supervisors departed, and toward the conclusion of the school board’s meeting, school board clerk Mel Paratore read Hilscher’s letter of resignation.

Hilscher, elected last November to the board, is moving with her husband to Richmond for business and family reasons (see the story on page 1). School Board Chairman Wesley Mills presented Hilscher with a card and plaque from the board. Vice chairman Aline Johnson handed Hilscher a tissue to wipe her tears.

School calendar issues

Boone also proposed moving the spring break to the first week of March, retaining Good Friday as a school holiday — giving students and teachers six weeks, as opposed to the current one week, to prepare for testing after that break. Any required makeup days for bad weather would be taken out of the spring break, he said.

Hilscher worried that facilities improvements projects scheduled for this summer would not be completed by Aug. 15. Boone assured the board that he would plan for delays. Other board members were also concerned about disrupting family holiday plans and summer programs.

In her view, Crocker said, the plan for an earlier start was based on sound reasoning to improve instruction.
“If we’re going to make the leap, let’s do it,” she said.

In the resolution passed by the board, Boone will deliver a proposal for the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 school calendars in October. These calendars, the board agreed, would reflect Boone’s proposed modifications — since facilities projects would not be an issue, and parents would have more advance notice for vacation and other planning.

Same budget, new process

Earlier that evening, for the first time in recent memory, the board of supervisors met jointly with the school board before receiving the school budget for consideration. Seating at the high school auditorium was arranged so that supervisors and school board members from each district sat next to each other.

“The budget is built on the premise that relationships matter,” Boone said as he began his budget presentation — and while he was referring to teacher, student and administrator relationships, it might well have applied to the two governing bodies, who in the past have struggled over financial matters.

Three priorities for the next school year, he said, are to increase staff compensation and dual enrollments, and to improve the district’s physical facilities.

School staff have not received a salary increase in three years, Boone said. The budget includes a one-time $500 bonus for 168 school employees. The one-time cost of $90,426 is covered by a federal grant of $113,000, he said.

Boone considered awarding a salary or step increase instead of the bonus. But these actions commit the county to higher staffing costs in the long-term future. And, he said, employees will actually have more money in their pockets from the bonus than from the other two approaches.

Additionally, the budget plans for the county to absorb the 9.4 percent increase in employees’ health insurance from Anthem Health Plans of Virginia, Inc.

At Supervisor Mike Biniek’s request, Boone explained the dual enrollment program, in which high school students earn college credits by studying at Lord Fairfax Community College (LFCC). Students, he said, can significantly decrease college tuition costs incurred after graduating from RCHS.

The school board and supervisors also discussed hiring a part-time clerk to coordinate the summer’s energy-systems and other improvements projects, an action the supervisors approved at their March 7 regular monthly meeting.

“There are lots of moving parts here,” County Administrator John McCarthy said, explaining the need for an overseer for projects the county anticipates costing from $1.4 to $1.6 million. He said he expects the clerk’s salary to be less than one-third of a percent of the total project cost.

As promised, McCarthy discussed the hiring process, suggesting that Hilscher, Boone and county building inspector Richie Burke interview applicants. Boone and Burke will interact with the clerk on a daily basis, he said.

Hilscher agreed to Mills’ request to find a replacement in the event that she is not available for interviewing.

In February, the. county advertised for bids for lighting improvements; bids were due by this Wednesday (March 23).

“The trick of the project is the asbestos abatement,” McCarthy said, which must precede the electrical and other work, all of which is scheduled to begin June 15. When the high school windows are replaced, McCarthy plans to have the caulking tested for asbestos.

The facilities projects will increase Rappahannock County Schools’ annual debt service by $150,000 for the next 10 years.

Staffing, training and technological support

Boone told the boards that training bus drivers in CPR is also in the budget, at a cost of up to $3,600.

Also budgeted is hiring a director of instruction, human resources and staff development; an instructional coordinator; an administrative assistant at Rappahannock County Elementary School (RCES); a bus driver for the Amissville route; a human resources generalist and a grant writer.

Eliminated from the budget is an assistant superintendent for instruction and personnel, and an assistant principal in the elementary school.

The position of athletic director is retained in the budget.

Also kept in the budget, Boone said, is furnishing laptop computers to all teachers, and “smart” devices to administrators. 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, he said.

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 as part of a county-wide network, and provide other internet-access improvements, will significantly reduce communication costs. The telephone bill is now approximately $2,000 per month. Upgrading the system will cost $50,000, but Boone anticipates reducing the monthly bill to $50.

New programs on the horizon

Boone would like to develop a transition program for students moving from eighth to ninth grade. He emphasized that there is a significant difference, emotionally and socially speaking, between an eighth-grader and a ninth-grader. Yet in Rappahannock, they share the same school.

Currently, the Cambridge program offers accelerated instruction to ninth- and 10th-graders. However, because of prohibitive costs, Boone said, it is not fully implemented in Rappahannock County schools.

The school district plans to replace the Cambridge program with the Pre-AP program, with an emphasis on math and reading.
Pre-AP courses will be offered as early as sixth grade, said Boone, who intends to make the Pre-AP standards the baseline expectation of performance from all students.

Key facts

The number of Rappahannock County students supported by the proposed 2011-2012 school budget is only three more than in this year’s budget of $11,592,166. which is based on an average of 917 students.

The county funds 80 percent of school budget. For the past four school years, the county’s contribution has held steady at $8,509,098. Boone said he is fairly certain of the amount of state funds that the county will receive.

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.