By Adrienne Wallace / Herald-Post

Posted Feb 20, 2018 at 2:01 AM

PRINCE GEORGE — Schools Superintendent Renee Williams presented her proposed budget to the School Board in a special meeting last week.

Her theme for the $66,703,691 proposal is “needs based, future focused.”

The budget is just up .42 percent from the current year which was $66,423,047.

In this coming Fiscal Year, the School Board expects to face many challenges with goals to build new schools, make salary and benefits more competitive for its employees and possibly will see a reduction in state funds with a drop in average daily enrollment.

Williams outlined goals in her presentation stating, “to become more competitive with recruitment and retention of highly qualified employees, to prepare a student population that is becoming, more diverse for a post-secondary education and the workforce.”

She also anticipates a decrease in State Virginia Retirement System payments from 16.32 percent to 15.68 percent.

Instruction costs, which make up the largest expenditures in the school system, are expected to cost $44,163,807 under William’s proposal.

Some of the changes in expenditures include the alignment of salary scales, health insurance and new staff including a Reading Interventionist (Department of Defense Education Activity grant) and Reading Interventionist at J.E.J. Moore Middle School.

Proposed Expenditure Changes in personnel add up to $118,902 in salary and benefits with the VRS decrease at $1,266,389, implementation of new salary grades and steps costing $1,134,442, new positions totaling $136,000 and health insurance increase expected to come in at $114,849.

The Prince George Education Association recently presented its salary proposal to the School Board.

“Based on data gathered from school employees, we recommend that the board establish a five-year plan, consistent with the findings of the Evergreen salary study, to establish a consistent, progressive step pay scale for all employees based on years of experience and education,” said Melissa Fleshman, PGEA president. “We would also recommend at least a 2 percent raise for all employees, with a plan to meet the national average in the coming years, and more options for affordable health care.”

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Lisa Pennycuff explained that school administrators would like to provide a greater increase than even proposed budget.

“We are trying to do the best we can with what we have at this time,” she said in a phone interview after the budget presentation. “We recognize salaries and benefits are very important to teachers and staff, and we are striving to be more competitive in that area developing a philosophy on how to get towards the top of the group. We can’t be competitive with larger divisions, but with those similar in size and proximity for recruiting and retaining the very best faculty and staff that we can.” In some of the study areas, Prince George ranked three out of five compared to other regional divisions.

She explained that it is challenging because the current policies aren’t keeping up with the steps for those with more experience.

“We have to get back on a salary scale so we can move forward. With the years following the recession, everyone was frozen, and we had a compression in scale,” Pennycuff noted. “If a teacher was hired five years before me on step 1, and I come in now, I would be hired at the same pay, so there is some inequality there.”

Williams explained the realignment of the instructional scale resulted in an average increase of 2.76 percent with a range of 1.15 percent to 3.92 percent, and the realignment of the non-instructional scale resulted in an average increase of 4.48 percent with a range of 1.26 percent to 9.14 percent.

While she said the administration is currently working on small changes, the hope is to continue that trend each year.

“At the end of the day, it’s the teacher in the classroom that makes a difference with the children,” the assistant superintendent of instruction and accountability said.

Another thing the school division struggles with is building a sustainable technology budget. For the short term the school system will request carry over funds that they didn’t spend in the current year’s budget to help with technology needs and continue to look at grant funding, but those are one time grants and what Pennycuff referred to as “seed money.”

With those goals in the plan, the division faces the challenge of dropped daily enrollment at the current numbers around 6,150, which is about 100 children down from what was budget in Fiscal Year 2017-2018.

If those numbers don’t get back up to what was planned on March 31, if the state’s attendance report is at the current enrollment, that will mean a decrease in funds.

That drop has to do with families transitioning from Fort Lee, but Pennycuff said that’s not the only reason. It is challenging, she admits, to predict enrollment from year to year.

Other proposed expenditure changes that are non-personnel include an increase in tuition for Code RVA, Maggie Walker and Appomattox Regional governor schools at a $30,336 increase, Transportation incentives to jump up $25,000, and under the capital projects, roof repairs would cost $21,990. Williams proposed a reduction in supplies for all schools at $1,237 decrease.

This is the first budget process for new School Board member Chris Johnson.

“At this point, on the surface, I certainly support increases for all of our employees,” he said. “It’s vital that we can take care of them, but I still think the steps and ranges need some work.”

He said it is a lot of information, and he would still have to study the plan and go through work sessions before he could make a decision, noting that he wanted to make the most informed decision that’s best for the division and students overall.

“We need desperately to be good fiscal agents of the funds, and have to determine how we can use what we have most efficiently,” said Pennycuff.

Reinforcing that the presentation is the superintendent’s proposed budget and may change after School Board discussion, Williams said the School Board will have several work sessions to consider this proposal and will stay tuned to changes in the state and federal forecasts, will make revisions to the proposal and will submit their adopted budget to the Board of Supervisors for consideration.

The School Board will hold a work session on Thursday at 6:30 p.m., and a public hearing will be held on February 27 at 6 p.m.