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Teachers will break even in Galax school budget

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By April Wright, Reporter

To offset the 5 percent increase in the Virginia Retirement System and increases in medical insurance and group life insurance, Galax School Board requested more than $200,000 from the city to allow faculty and staff to break even on their paychecks next school year.
Schools and localities must give employees a 5 percent raise to offset the cost of contributions. Galax City Public Schools will raise salaries by 6.25 percent, which will allow teachers to take home the same net pay next school year as this school year.
At one point, for the 2012-2013 school operation budget, the school system was anticipating only an $87,000 increase over the 2011-2012 budget, but when administrators received the state-approved budget in mid-April, they realized that wouldn’t be enough, Galax Superintendent Bill Sturgill told Galax School Board during a budget work session last Tuesday.
Sturgill said that the budget committee and administrators worked on about a dozen budget drafts to be prepared for what would come from the state.
“As the language filtered down from the state, we realized that it wasn’t going to be a great budget,” Sturgill said. “Teachers would have taken home less than this year.”
The challenges with this budget, Sturgill said, are the result of an increase on the expenditure side.
Medical insurance went up $174,000, group life increased by $67,000; and retirement increased by $36,000, said School Board Member Jim Adams, who serves on the budget committee.
School divisions had the option of spreading the 5 percent increase over the next five years. However, the school board and Galax City Council felt the 5 percent increase all at one time is best.
“To offset the cost, we either needed to increase the revenue or decrease spending,” said Adams. “Why should we string something out for 5 years?”
Sturgill said the city views education as a priority, which allowed the school system to continue being a competitive system in terms of teacher salaries.
“The city has allowed us to get VRS cleaned up and start with a clean slate the following year,” said Sturgill. “We wouldn’t be able to do this without the support of the city.”
In a $13.49 million budget, funding will include $4.37 million from the city, an increase of $207,000 from the 2011-2012 budget.
The spending plans also includes:
• $995,000 in sales tax revenue, a $10,000 increase
• $6.5 million in state funds, a $655,300 increase
• $1.47 million in federal funds, a $301,719 decrease
• $121,000 in other funds, a $38,512 decrease
• $40,000 in loans and investments, a $12,170 decrease
Sturgill said Galax schools had four goals they wanted to meet with this 2012-2013 budget: continue to provide quality education; provide teachers and administrators resources needed to create innovative instruction; expand technology, such as implementing broadband and iPads; and allow teachers to move forward, rather than backward.
Five of the eight jobs that were expected to be lost due to the expiration of the federal jobs bill stimulus funds this year, $326,786, will be maintained and worked into next school year’s budget. This eliminates three full-time substitutes  \ one at each school.
While two teacher’s aid positions expire at the end of the year under the stimulus funding, both aid workers that would have been laid off will be hired back due to Galax schools housing a regionally-funded education program, The Cooperative Center for Exceptional Children.
“We have a great budget and no bad news to deliver,” Sturgill told the board.