Dozens of residents voice support for Rappahannock teachers’ salary increase

Some opposition to personal property tax increase

One Rappahannock resident after another stepped up to the podium at the Board of Supervisors’ well-attended public hearing Monday night on the county’s proposed FY19 budget to voice support for increased funding of Rappahannock County Public Schools, including a teachers’ pay raise.

The $367,000 in additional funding requested by schools Superintendent Shannon Grimsley would provide teachers with a 2 percent salary increase, maintain high quality staff while also hiring two teachers, reduce class sizes, increase educational programs, and support long overdue facilities and capital improvements.

“The children are our future,” admonished Aline Johnson, who recently stepped down after 18 years on the school board. “A lot of work went into this budget [and the schools] are in dire need of the funding.”

Former Rappahannock School Board member Aline Johnson and resident Bill Dietel were among the several dozen who spoke at Monday night’s public hearing on the county’s FY19 budget. Photos by John McCaslin

Additionally, the proposed schools budget addresses the safety and security of students and staff, and if adopted would split funds with the Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Office to assign one full-time deputy to serve as a school resource officer at both the elementary and high school.

The superintendent’s request comes during a time when federal and state funding to public schools is decreasing. Adding to the difficulties, Rappahannock County has one of the highest rates of income inequality in the United States — ranking 64th among the nation’s 3,084 county jurisdictions — which over the years has skewed Local Composite Index (LCI) calculations that determine outside revenue streams to schools.

In other words, on paper Rappahannock County gives the impression that it’s dripping in money — and thus should be able to allocate a larger share of its taxpayer supported budget to local schools — when in reality that’s not the case.

Rappahannock schools are getting a “disproportionate share of funding,” Gary Aichele, a former Washington Town Council member, educated the audience, even as “15 percent of its kids are living in poverty.”

Two faculty members took turns recalling how young enthusiastic teachers have repeatedly left Rappahannock schools for higher paying teaching positions elsewhere.

“We see teachers come and go,” said teacher Karen Sanborn. “We’re losing our younger teachers, who are paid more in surrounding counties. We need to keep our young teachers in the building, long term.”

“The teachers need a salary increase . . . the teachers deserve a salary increase,” Johnson agreed.

Speaker Bill Dietel told the crowd of 150 that filled the elementary school gymnasium that Monday’s budget hearing marked his 37th straight year of attendance, but never before has there been a meeting “as positive” as this week’s in support of the school system.

Rappahannock Sheriff’s Deputy Mark Currence, who helped lead active shooter response training last fall for both high school and elementary school teachers, told the audience that the additional funding request is vital for “school safety.”

“There is nothing more important than keeping our children safe,” he stated..

Matthew Black, speaking about the school budget and other Rappahannock needs, said “the county has a bad record of kicking the can down the road,” and that habit now has to stop, whether it surrounds funding fire and rescue agencies or overdue county building renovations.

Speaker Ron Makela seconded that motion, telling the five supervisors and administrator Garrey Curry that there wouldn’t be an historic county courthouse in the town of Washington today if last year’s two electrical fires had erupted during off-hours, when employees wouldn’t have been on hand to call 911.

“The county needs to spend money now because we are running out of time,” Makela warned.

Additional lines of the county budget were addressed by other speakers, several of whom voiced opposition to a proposed personal property tax increase on top of added real estate levies.

All told, the FY19 budget — which also provides for a 2 percent pay increase for county government workers — totals $34,746,061, an increase of $1,180,548 over 2018. It includes $565,000 in one-time expenses (or allocations for contingent one-time costs) so over half of the increase is from the fund balance (savings account) for needed projects and not local government expense growth.

Curry, who took over the administrator’s post in January, was widely praised by several speakers for his hard work in helping draft the FY19 budget, and was credited for finding innovative ways to redirect funds and save taxpayers’ money.

Grimsley, at the same time, was credited for the unprecedented “transparency” of her school budget.

Dietel described the schools’ budget as “impressive and thoughtful.”

Supervisor John Lesinski said his “thoughts” on this year’s budget process “were reinforced by what I heard tonight,” and he assured the audience that the county “was working hard to get its fiscal house in order.”

The county supervisors are now weighing the public’s testimony and will vote to adopt the school and county budget as early as Monday, April 30.

About John McCaslin 323 Articles
John McCaslin is the editor of the Rappahannock News. Email him at editor@rappnews.com.