County supervisors pressured to increase schools budget in 2019

Superintendent requesting additional $367,000 as federal, state funds decrease

As Piedmont District School Board Member Rachel Bynum recently pointed out, the annual budget for Rappahannock County Public Schools “has been almost flat for several years, and has consistently diminished as a percentage of our county budget.”

“Meanwhile,” she continued, “state funding has diminished as our Local Composite Index (LCI) has risen — meaning our county looks rich enough based on the state’s calculations to afford a higher proportion of school funding.”

But rich Rappahannock isn’t — at least when it comes to available school funds. One reason is that the county has one of the highest rates of income inequality in the United States — ranking 64th among the nation’s 3,084 jurisdictions (counties and county equivalents) — which skews LCI calculations and brings in fewer state and federal revenues.

In other words, the LCI for Rappahannock County used to calculate state and federal revenues for FY 2019 is .7672, meaning the locality — in this case Rappahannock taxpayers — is expected to fund 77 percent of the school budget, with only 23 percent support from state and federal dollars. The LCI adjusts each biennium, with Rappahannock’s LCI historically one of the top ten highest in Virginia.

Bottom line, according to Bynum: “The [school’s] central office has gone through the budget line-by-line for savings, but we need to ask for an increase in county funding this year to meet our needs.”

Under the guidance of first-year Superintendent Shannon Grimsley, the schools system is seeking in its proposed fiscal 2019 budget a 2 percent pay raise for its teachers, additional primary reading teachers and a part time social worker, adding a new reading curriculum for pre-K through 6th grades, and undertaking much-needed facilities maintenance.

She is asking that the county increase its contribution for this upcoming school year by $367,000 over the current 2018 budget — from $9.089 million to $9.456 million. In making her case, Grimsley prepared for all of Rappahannock County to read an impressive 23-page overview of the school system, including performance highlights, vision, mission, and strategic goals.

The last significant county funding increase for Rappahannock public schools was in the amount of $300,000 in FY 2014, when the all-important LCI funding share was actually higher than it is today. There was no change in county funds for the schools from 2014 to 2015, while 2016 saw a $50,000 increase, followed by a $50,000 decrease in 2017, and no increase in 2018.

“One of our goals at the outset of working with this budget has been to enhance the transparency by which public tax dollars are being spent on the best possible education for our youth,” Grimsley writes in her overview.

“To this end, each expenditure and revenue category was analyzed thoroughly based on data in order to be sure that all funds were being expended in the manner for which they were intended as well as providing equity in educational services to all.”

The superintendent lists as her priorities for the 2018-19 school year:

> Safety and security of all students and staff

> Profile of a graduate

> Maintaining high quality staff

> Reduction of pupil sizes for reading classes

> Reading program adoption

> Facilities and capital improvement planning

> Community engagement

Grimsley says the proposed 2019 budget addresses many, but not all, critical needs for the schools division. One that it does address is splitting funds with the Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Office to have a full-time deputy serve as a School Resource Officer at each school.

Writing a letter to her constituents and other residents of Rappahannock County, Bynum, who is newly elected to the board, encouraged as many people as possible to come out for next Tuesday evening’s joint public hearing of supervisors and the school board, which will be held at 7 p.m. at the high school.

In the meantime, she’s asked Rappahannock residents to contact one or more of the supervisors and encourage them to fully fund the fiscal 2019 budget. The board member even provided all five supervisors’ email addresses and phone numbers.

RCPS enrollment, demographics

A total of 858 students are currently enrolled in Rappahannock County Public Schools in preschool through grade 12.Male: 54 percent (462)

Female: 46 percent (396)

White: 85 percent

Hispanic: 5 percent

Black: 2 percent

White and black: 6 percent

American Indian/Alaskan Native: 0.3 percent

Unclassified: 1 percent

Source: Rappahannock County Public Schools

About John McCaslin 288 Articles
John McCaslin is the editor of the Rappahannock News. Email him at editor@rappnews.com.