Purchasing replacement buses, hiring more math and reading specialists and adjusting the school division’s approach to employee pay raises were some of the top budget priorities the Williamsburg-James City County School Board identified for fiscal 2017 during a budget retreat Saturday morning.
School division staff encouraged School Board members to review potential budget priorities in the areas of employee compensation, personnel and non-personnel requests and indicate which they would also prioritize by placing a colored sticker next to the item.
While board members had the option to emphasize the importance of an item with multiple stickers or split their stickers among potential priorities, Superintendent Steven Constantino said it was “already very clear” to the school division that it “can’t have it all.”
Before the school division can bolster its offerings with new hires and services, it needs to address nearly $3 million in new, non-negotiable spending mandated by the state.
WJCC Chief Financial Officer Christina Berta said increases to health insurance costs and Virginia Retirement System employer rates, as well as state-required staff hires – all part of Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s proposed budget for fiscal years 2017 and 2018 – total $2,953,000.
Local revenue from the state sales tax and state hiring incentives mitigate the problem by $400,654, but the need to hire five more teachers based on enrollment projections brings the total up to $2,927,346.
“We are starting at the gate in the hole, so it’s a challenging year,” Berta said.
Berta emphasized that the numbers are fluid and the school division will not know the full effects of the state budget until after the General Assembly makes its adjustments.
Board Chairman Jim Kelly (Jamestown) said the General Assembly is to blame for problems with public education funding, not James City County or the City of Williamsburg, which cover the local costs of the WJCC School Division.
According to the Virginia Department of Education’s Local Composite Index, which determines a school division’s ability to pay educational costs, James City County would be asked to contribute $1.1 million more in 2016-2018 than it had from 2014 to 2016, while the City of Williamsburg would pay $95,000 less.
“The county and the city do everything they can to make up that gap that comes out of Richmond but the gap continues to grow coming out of Richmond,” Kelly said. “Unfairly so I think the state throws this burden squarely on their back and I think it’s inappropriate.”
Vice Chairwoman Kyra Cook (City of Williamsburg) added the state is asking Williamsburg and James City County to contribute more despite increases in the number of students receiving free and reduced lunches, students in special education and students with limited English proficiency.
School division staff presented three potential priorities in employee compensation, eight in personnel and five in non-personnel items.
Board members indicated they would like to see all school division employees benefit from a 1 percent salary increase and decompress step salary increases so teachers can benefit from pay increases for each year of service with the division.
They also prioritized hiring full-time support staff that would help students with reading and math at schools where the need is greatest, continuing the bus replacement plan to swap in nine vehicles annually and expanding the personalized learning laptop program to all middle school students.
Items that did not receive widespread support included restoring funding for the school division to cover student fees for AP exams and hiring additional assistant principals for Hornsby and Toano middle schools.
School division staff will present the operating budget to the School Board during its work session Feb. 2.