Grayson supervisors counter school budget request

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By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

INDEPENDENCE – Grayson County Supervisors have approved a counter offer to the school board following a request of more than $600,000 in additional funding for education.
The school board presented requests for both the current budget (2012-13) and next year’s budget (2013-14) for the supervisors to consider during a joint meeting held last month.
Supervisors met earlier this month to discuss those requests and County Administrator Jonathan Sweet pointed out that because of an increase in the school’s Average Daily Membership (ADM) – the formula used to determine state and local funding for school divisions – the county’s required local effort (RLE) was projected to go up by $117,481 for each fiscal year.
Previously, the supervisors had agreed to fund the purchase of a new bus ($82,000) and a school resource officer position ($30,000) at the end of the 2012-13 school year if the school system continued to run the county’s activity bus. To try and reduce a deficit last year the school board proposed eliminating the activity bus.
Sweet said the county had made good on the resource officer, but the school bus had not been purchased yet.
Basically, Sweet added, the school board has requested the county pay for the bus and resource officer above the $117,481 increase in ADM, instead of absorbing those costs within the required increase.
“That’s a pretty big chunk of change to bite off not having budgeted for it,” Sweet said, noting that it would mean the county would have to come up with nearly $200,000 instead of the budgeted $82,000.
In response, Sweet proposed the board consider a counter proposal to find some common ground and leverage some school dollars.
Because the county is required to pay the $117,481 to receive the maximum in state funding, Sweet said that was off the table for negotiation.
Sweet proposed the board consider providing half the cost of a school bus (up to a maximum of $41,000) to be matched by the school board and a required match contribution of $20,000 for athletic facilities repairs for a total of $178,481 above the budgeted amount.
“These are the school systems’ priorities,” Sweet said of the school buses and repairing aging facilities during the current budget.
“Do we have the money?” asked Chairman Mike Maynard.
Sweet said the money could be found in the current budget, however it would simply mean less money transferred into other accounts such as capital improvements, working reserve and general fund.

2013-14 School Budget Request
Also during the joint meeting with the school board last month, supervisors were presented with a request for an additional $635,000 during fiscal year 2013-14 to go towards teacher raises ($63,470), technology enhancements ($300,000), purchase of a school bus ($82,000), facilities repairs ($70,000) and additional school security measures ($120,000).
Sweet pointed out that the state is offering localities money to give required Standards of Quality positions a 2 percent increase in salary. The catch is that localities must pick up a portion of the expense.
The school board has committed to providing the 2 percent increase to all staff members – even those not included in the SOQ positions – and asked the supervisors to help fund the increases with $63,470 towards that effort. Additionally, the school system is required to give another 1 percent increase to all staff members, which the employees must then put into the Virginia Retirement System.
Sweet recommended a counter proposal that included the following:
• Half the purchase of a school bus (up to a maximum amount of $41,000)
• $34,000 to be matched by state and school board funding for 2 percent SOQ increase
• $25,000 to be matched by school board for school security investments.
The counter proposal would mean a commitment of $100,000 above the required local effort, which is already projected to be $117,481 more than what was initially budgeted for during the current year.
Sweet said this means the county would be investing more than $400,000 in additional funding over a two year period into the school division.
Additionally, Sweet asked the board to consider including a caveat that this additional appropriation ($100,000) above the required local effort would be used to cover any future increase in RLE based on increases in average daily membership. Likewise, Sweet said the agreement would be that if ADM decreased, the school system would not have to return funds to the county like in years past.
Without a projected increase in revenues, Maynard questioned where the money would come from.
Sweet pointed out that initial numbers already show a projected deficit of nearly $2 million for next year’s budget, based on requested expenditures.
However, Sweet said while this would reduce the ability to fund some additional items and limit the amount potentially put towards things like reducing debt service, through these adjustments the money could be found.
“This will make an impact in the school system instead of just allowing them to tread water,” Sweet said, referring to the idea that the proposed plan would include purchase of two new buses, an increase in security, more money in teacher’s pockets and upgrades to aging facilities.
Maynard applauded the school board for putting together a list of key priorities, but cautioned the supervisors on approving money above and beyond what is required.
“There may be a day where we don’t have a quarter million dollars [to spend],” Maynard said referring to the extra money the county has committed above RLE. “When you give more [than RLE], if you ever don’t have the ability to give it, it is perceived as a reduction in funding.”
Maynard added that he hopes the superintendent won’t look at it as cuts to the school system if during the next budget cycle the funding isn’t there to go above RLE.
“We’re partners in this thing,” Maynard said.
Supervisor Kenneth Belton felt that if the county could come up with the money, the board should approve the counter offers as presented.
“I’d like to give the $635,000, but we can’t,” Belton said.
With no further comments, the board unanimously voted to provide the additional budget appropriations presented by Sweet for both budget years.
In total, the school system will receive an additional $178,481 from the county for budget year 2012-13 and $217,481 for budget year 2013-14, above this year’s budgeted amount.