By Krysta Huber
The Rockbridge County School Board voted Monday to ask county supervisors to approve a $28.6 million budget for 2014-15.
That’s an increase of almost $2 million over this year. School officials say they will need the $28.6 million to fund six categories of spending.
But Monday’s estimate shows a $400,000 gap between estimated revenues and expenditures. Superintendent Jack Donald said the budget must be balanced, so it is likely that changes will be made to the proposal.
Paying for that $400,000 gap with local property taxes could mean an increase of 2 cents on the current 67 cents per $100 rate. So Donald said it is likely that the supervisors will approve less than $28.6 million
It remains uncertain where revenues will come from. The General Assembly did not pass a budget in its regular session, so local school officials don’t yet know how much the state’s contribution to the schools’ budget will be. Legislators gathered again Monday in special session to try to approve a budget.
School officials anticipate that almost 95 percent of funding will come from state revenue and local revenue. Based on average daily school enrollment numbers for March, the school board anticipates it will receive about $13.2 million from the state. And it expects to receive another $13.4 million from local money.
About $1.4 million in revenue will come from tuition payments. Parents of students from outside the district pay for their children to attend county schools. And the city of Lexington pays the county for each student the city sends to Rockbridge County High School.
The school board’s budget proposal includes estimates for six spending categories: instruction, administration and health, pupil transportation, operations and maintenance, facilities and technology.
Almost 80 percent of the $2 million in projected increases would come from personnel costs, including employee health care benefits. Those are expected to go up by $345,000 for premium charges and the cost of adding employees to the district’s health care plan.
The county must add another $525,000 to its Virginia Retirement System contribution. That is mandated by the state, based on the district’s current payroll.
Salary and benefit costs would also increase by up to $344,000 if the school board hires six new elementary teachers and a groundskeeper. The board hopes to add two art teachers, two resource teachers for the gifted and talented program and school volunteer programs, and two physical education teachers.
It wants to hire a groundskeeper to maintain the landscaping at Maury River Middle School and the county’s five other schools.
The proposal also includes a raise for the district’s employees, which would cost $325,000. Donald said employees haven’t seen real increases in the last five years.
The board gave employees a 5 percent increase two years ago, but that covered a state-mandated 5 percent hike in their contribution to the state retirement fund. And a 2 percent raise awarded last year was essentially eliminated because employees had to pay higher payroll taxes.
More than half of the remaining 20 percent in overall increases would fund textbook replacements. Donald said the textbook fund was reduced to address other priorities over the last several years.
The proposal also predicts increased costs for transportation, facilities and maintenance. Most of the costs are for fuel, summer training sessions for bus drivers and purchasing new buses.
Donald said the current budget allows the school district to purchase only three buses. But because the state requires buses to be replaced every 15 years, the district will need four new buses. So the proposal allocates $85,000 to purchase a fourth bus.
The proposed budget will not be made final until the General Assembly passes a state budget. Until then, the school board will present the estimates to the county supervisors.
The supervisors have three options: They can fund the total proposal as is, reduce it, or increase or reduce specific category totals. But the supervisors can’t direct the school board on specific changes within each category.
The supervisors can make a decision before the General Assembly passes a state budget, based on expected revenues.
The final budget for schools is usually adopted in early May.