Schools might have to cut step increases

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Photo by Meg Hibbert
Members of the Craig County Board of Supervisors (left), Craig County School Board Chairman Pat Myers (center) and Supervisor Rusty Zimmerman (left) meeting on March 2 to talk about what the county can provide in local funds for next year’s school budget.

Meg Hibbert Contributing writer

How to meet the financial needs of Craig County’s schools when the county budget doesn’t have enough to go around? That was the subject of an amicable meeting between the Craig County Board of Supervisors and the Craig County School Board on March 2.


The bad news was that even though the Supervisors sympathize, the county doesn’t have sufficient funds to continue providing as much in local money to Craig schools for next year’s fiscal year. This year, the county provided $1,887,566, and school officials hoped for the same during the 2017-2018 school year.

Instead, the Board of Supervisors and County Administrator Clay Goodman are proposing a cut of more than $67,500.

In light of that, School Superintendent Jeanette Warwick says school leaders will have to go back to the drawing board to figure out what it must cut from the proposed 2017-2018 school budget. The School Board was due to discuss that on Tuesday night this week, after the press deadline of The New Castle Record.

Warwick said total school salaries are almost equal to last year, but benefits cost almost $59,000 more because of required increases.

Until now, Craig County government had a memorandum of understanding about how much in local funds the county will provide. The Virginia Department of Education tells counties what a minimum local funding is. Craig usually gives more. This school year the county provided $1.8 million, even though only about $1.4 million was required. The rest of the schools’ $6.9-million budget comes from state and federal money, including federal payments from the Forest Service in lieu of taxes.

Warwick and Director of Finance Heather Duncan had hoped for level local funding, they said at the March 3 Supervisors’ meeting. If schools do not get that, “The step increase for school employees would have to be cut, because we don’t have anywhere else to cut.”

When Supervisors Chairman Jesse Spence asked, “What would you do if we did not give the required additional contribution?” Duncan said, “I don’t know. The School Board would have to decide.” She pointed out that Craig County is already 21st from the bottom in budgets out of all 132 school divisions in Virginia.

Warwick said later in the discussion that Craig is 9th from the bottom in the state’s lowest salaries for teachers, and 3rd from the bottom in administrators’ salaries. The school system is already spending less in overall teachers’ salaries because “We ended up with a lot of brand-new teachers as older teachers retire, and beginning teachers make about $32,000,” Warwick said.

Duncan explained after the March 3 meeting that the school board might again request for the county to provide local funding, and that the Board of Supervisors could send the proposal back and request that schools cut their budget.

The schools’ proposed budget which figures in state funds is actually less because of a lower Average Daily Membership – the number of students attending Craig County Public Schools. The proposed budget is based on an ADM of 588 students instead of 600 ADM this year, Duncan said.

Critical school needs presented by Warwick amount to $329,000 to:

  • Replace the floor in Craig County High School’s Auxiliary at $43,940;
  • Pave the parking lots, at $227,450 expected cost;
  • Update bus security cameras at a cost of $20,000; and
  • Completion of air conditioning units in all high school classrooms, at $38,000.

She showed photographs of crumbling and potholed asphalt in the McCleary Elementary parking lot, and high school back lot and entrance; and worn-through auxiliary gym floors. With capital improvement funds not previously expended in the schools’ budget, $271,390 was appropriated by Supervisors to the school portion of this year’s budget. Those were carry-over funds from last year’s school budget.

The amount includes $114,000 in federal Forest Service money, which is not budgeted “because we don’t know if we’re going to get it every year,” Duncan told Supervisors.

The Craig County School Board is due to meet again with the Board of Supervisors on Thursday, March 23. The Supervisors’ March 3 was adjourned until that date. The meeting will start at 6 p.m.