Unknown. For the first time in the 9 years of covering school budget meetings at the school board office, there were no preliminary numbers presented in the first school budget committee for the 2013-14 budget. All five school board members, Ruth Wallace, Kathy Sullivan, John Alderson, Michael Beahm and Scott Swortzel were present.
Dr. Tony Brads began the first school budget committee meeting with a no numbers approach and a listing from the code of Virginia. Va 22.1-9 which states that it is the duty of the school superintendent of every school division to prepare with the approval of the school board a budget to send to the county by April 1. The scenario on the state and local level is so tenuous that the school division is not willing to estimate at this time what the money will be. Though Brads and his team including Brenda Bartee, Sam Foster and Dr. Brian Austin have a preliminary set of numbers for what it will cost to run the school division in 2013-14, the unknowns at this time are too hard to speculate where funding is concerned.
The “Team Botetourt” concept of previous years is not as apparent on the county side as in previous years. With almost flat growth and burgeoning costs to provide paid fire and rescue and a focus on tourism and the sports complex, the schools have dimmed in some of the first strategic planning dialogue in 10 years currently taking place on the supervisor level. The state is proposing a pay raise for SOQ funded positions only, enrollment funding is declining, and federal jobs money is drying up. In a nutshell, there is less money to go around.
Brads covered the budget narrative concisely. While the students of Botetourt are the most important and the education there of, the largest cost is personnel. “We want to remain a premiere school division,” said Brads. He spoke of a pay raise but did not know if it is doable. Other components of the Budget narrative include instructional programming, technology, facilities and operations and support. The proposed STEM Academy at Greenfield Education and Training Center is one of the instructional programs on the planning horizon.
Healthcare for the Division for the first time could top 6 million dollars due to the new health care reform. The schools pay the single provider and there is 87% participation. School retirees on the plan pay the full premium of insurance. Virginia Retirement Service (VRS) continues to be an issue. The schools elected to phase in the five year rate last year. Substitute pay is much less than neighboring divisions according to Jill Green the division HR. The retiree service plan is filling some spots, but may have to be revisited as well.
Lack of wireless infrastructure and white boards for every class room inhibits technology progress as an education tool in a world that is increasingly held in the hands of not only students but workers. “We can use the textbook fund for e readers, but not for infrastructure,” said Brads. In most schools the library and administration areas are the only wireless areas limiting access in class rooms.
Capital improvements like the LBHS roof, a new school in Blue Ridge, the CIP fund, lower enrollment and state funds, lunch prices and school bus replacement are on the laundry list that are not wants but needs and concerns. The next meeting is scheduled for Feb. 28 when Brads said, “Hopefully more numbers will be available.”