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Williamsburg-James City County Schools Superintendent Steven Constantino has proposed delaying some school division initiatives to help fund a $128 million budget for fiscal year 2017 and “move closer” to achieving the established priorities of the School Board’s strategic plan.
The total operating budget, as presented during Tuesday’s School Board work session, seeks about $4.04 million more in funding than the amount approved in FY 2016.
To help meet this need, the School Division would request $3.6 million from its supporting localities, Williamsburg and James City County, an increase of 4.5 percent from the amount of money allocated in FY 2016.
Much of the new expense would go toward addressing personnel needs, which would include hiring more special education, support and pre-school teachers. Additionally, the school division must add five full-time teaching positions at a cost of $375,000 as a result of a projected enrollment increase of 130 students in fiscal 2017.
These hires will bring the total number of full-time employees to 1,633, an increase of 2 percent from fiscal 2016.
Julie Hummel (City of Williamsburg) asked the board why the percent increase did not match the smaller enrollment increase, projected to be 1.2 percent higher than in fiscal 2016. WJCC Chief Financial Officer Christina Berta said the school division is still making up for positions that were cut in the seven years following the Great Recession.
While many of the proposed hires are for new positions, one general education pre-school teacher and one assistant are noted in the budget as restored positions that would cost $110,000 to fund.
If the budget is approved, all school division staff could benefit from salary modifications and improvements, one of the top priorities School Board members identified during its retreat Jan. 16.
Constantino’s proposal modifies salary scales so entry-level teacher compensation is more competitive, all teachers receive a salary “step” increase and all support and administrative staff receive a 1.5 percent salary increase.
This adjustment would cost the school division $2,444,217. This option was not among the proposals the School Board considered during its retreat, but rather a hybrid of three options: a 2.5 percent step increase for most employees, a 1 percent salary increase for all staff, and adjustments to modify or eliminate compression.
Constantino said he would present the modified salary scale during the Feb. 16 School Board meeting.
Besides this adjustment, only a handful of other priorities identified during the retreat made it into the superintendent’s proposed budget.
Items like funding more special education and teacher support positions made the cut, while updating middle and high school science textbooks, expanding the personalized learning laptop program to all middle school students and continuing the “smooth” bus replacement schedule did not.
Nine school buses are set be replaced annually as part of the schedule, but the school division would save $300,000 in FY 2017 if the schedule is delayed a year.
Berta explained the 14 buses that need to be replaced in fiscal 2017 could be replaced in fiscal 2018 instead, when no buses are set to become old enough to replace.
“We feel we are comfortable enough delaying it,” Berta said, but Constantino said the decision would “once again put us behind in terms of bus replacement.”
Last year the school division asked the JCC Board of Supervisors and the Williamsburg City Council if it could use unspent funds from FY 2015 to accelerate its bus replacement schedule.
While the City Council approved the request, the Board of Supervisors asked representatives to return with more information before it made a decision. Sue Mellen, director of financial and management services for James City County, said, to her knowledge, this has yet to occur.
The school division anticipates a $375,012 decrease in funding from the state due to changes to the Local Composite Index, which determines a school division’s ability to pay educational costs.
Projected state funding, which makes up nearly a quarter of the school division’s revenue and is based on Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s proposed budget, could change once the state budget is reviewed by the General Assembly.
The School Board must present a balanced budget to the Board of Supervisors and the City Council on or before April 1. The localities must approve a budget appropriation for the school division by May 15.