School board, supervisors tout a ‘frugal budget’

Despite informing the county board of supervisors — and 15 or so members of the public gathered last Thursday night (March 20) at the supervisors’ and school board’s joint budget meeting — that they were able to allocate an additional $59,000 toward the 2014-15 school budget, Rappahannock County’s school board is still not requesting any additional funds from the county — or the public.

Superintendent Donna Matthews started the hour-long meeting by explaining to the supervisors how the board arrived at its $12.47 million budget — the same total as last year’s budget.

The extra money, Matthews said, came from revised health insurance figures, and totalled $59,423. The board made plans to divide that money among several categories at a budget meeting March 13, including bus repairs, a supplement for the Next Step program ($2,700) and repairing the aerators at the elementary school ($25,000).

Matthews then recapped the cuts the board has already made for the supervisors. All told, the board approved a step raise for teachers (a $41,342 cost) and still managed to trim $237,070 from last year’s budget.

“I feel like it’s a really good budget,” Matthews added.

Those cuts included $15,000 for the (now vacant) Next Step college-placement coordinator position, a $95,000 reduction in elementary and high school textbooks (possible because no new textbooks need to be adopted this year), $22,000 from the school maintenance fund and more.

Hampton district supervisor S. Bryant Lee had some concerns over the textbooks’ funds — specifically over whether a future state-mandated textbook change would require an increase to that fund. Matthews said it likely would, but added that textbooks are on a six-year cycle and it would be a while before another change was required.

“You’ve clearly worked hard this year to trim the budget down, and it’s a big help,” Lee added.

County Administrator John McCarthy also chimed in with a few comments related to the elementary school aerators — a key part of the school’s water system. Two were replaced 17 years ago and the remaining ones are “limping along,” McCarthy said. Losing as aerator, McCarthy pointed out, would necessitate closing school.

McCarthy also said he was pleased to see funds previously devoted to small-scale versions of large-scale repairs — like $1,200 for the high school bleachers and funds for the replacement of the elementary school’s windows — were being looked at and cut in favor of completing the projects all at once down the road.

“It’s a wonderful budget and I praise you for it,” McCarthy said, “but I would encourage you to keep those aerators as a high priority.”

The rest of the meeting was of a congratulatory nature, as both school board members and supervisors voiced their approval of Matthews’ budget, each other and the community. “It’s impressive that you’ve been able to find money and move it around,” said Piedmont district supervisor Mike Biniek. “This is the first time I’ve seen so much work put into it.” Supervisor chairman Roger Welch echoed Biniek’s thoughts, and thanked Matthews for “trimming the fat.”

Jackson district representative Amy Hitt joked that she could have asked for “$3 million more” when designing the budget, but praised Matthews’ job thus far as superintendent. “We wanted someone to come in and take charge . . . and educate kids in the best possible way. She’s very frugal and that’s what we were looking for.”

Wakefield district’s Chris Ubben summed up the evening by saying Matthews has “exceeded all expectations” and commending her specifically on the balanced budget. “I can’t guarantee the same next year,” Ubben cautioned, “but it’s important to remember that the budget’s not a blank check; we should be responsible for it, and we have been.”