By Micah Fleet
Buena Vista’s School Board recommended a budget last Thursday that would raise salaries by at least five percent for all staff and put a focus on technology in the classroom.
The proposed budget would require nearly $1.4 million in additional funding, with only a little over $160,000 of that expected from state education aid and from a new technology-oriented grant.
That would put a heavy burden on local taxpayers, should the City Council approve the recommendation next month.
The schools have received no increase in local funding for the past two years – with $2.3 million from local property taxes each year. The proposed budget would ask city residents and businesses to come up with that plus $1.24 million, a 54 percent increase in local funding alone.
“We really want to get back to where we were [before the recession],” said Mary Holm, acting superintendent. “Buena Vista has low sales tax [revenue] and we’ve seen decreased funding over the years.”
The average salary for a Buena Vista school employee would be almost $42,284.30, a five percent increase over the current average.
In addition, the board is proposing to bump up all but the most senior teachers by three yearly steps. “Steps” refers to the seniority that public school teachers acquire to boost their base pay in addition to any overall salary increases.
“Our teachers have been stuck at the same step,” said Holm. “We felt a pay increase is necessary to attract and keep teachers in our schools.”
State funding for the schools is expected to increase relatively little.
The state determines school funding using a formula called Standards of Quality. SOQ sets the minimum services the state must pay for in public schools. One of the variables the state uses for the SOQ is income data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
“[The state] recently looked at the census and found a lot of poverty in our area,” said Holm. “That led to increased funding which can help our students.”
Another source of money for Buena Vista is a new grant from the Virginia Public School Authority. The VPSA sells bonds to generate funding for technology in public schools. The VPSA allocates grants to achieve four goals in schools:
- Provide students access to computers at a ratio of one computer to four students
- Create internet-ready local area network capability in every school
- Assure adequate high-speed bandwidth capability for instructional, remedial, and testing needs
- Establish a statewide Standards of Learning test delivery system
The VPSA grant totals almost $80,000, half of the $160,000 from state sources. The money will be used to upgrade technology in computer labs and libraries at all four of the city’s schools.
“Our hope is that these specialists can help faculty with research projects and help students learn to work with our new technology,” said Holm.
In addition to salary increases, the proposed budget would create 18 new jobs for the schools, including an attendance officer. It’s a position that Wayne Flint, vice chairman of the school board, thought was necessary.
“We have a problem with attendance with certain families,” said Flint.
Flint went on to say that if the unanimously approved budget is accepted by Buena Vista’s city council, he wanted the attendance officer to sit down with a juvenile judge and set out what attendance is expected.
“We’ve seen a real neglect,” said Flint. “We’d sit down with the judge and if the rules weren’t followed we’d charge the parents, not the child.”