Budget Battle in Stafford County, again
It’s Spring and here in Stafford County that can mean only one thing . . .budget battle. This year’s battle of the budgets between the Board of Supervisors and the School Board is shaping up to be one for the ages.
First a quick primer on how the budget process in Stafford County is supposed to work. Stafford County Public Schools is an independent entity from Stafford County Government, and it is governed by the 7 member elected School Board. The school division receives funding from a variety of sources from all levels of government, however funding from the local government makes up about 50% of the revenue side of the budget. Local funding is appropriated by the Board of Supervisors through the county budget development process. Roughly 50% of taxes collected by the Board of Supervisors is appropriated to the School Division each year.
The School Board develops its own budget, which they ideally present to the Board of Supervisors in March as the Supervisors are working on the county’s budget and setting the tax rate. Below is a graphic to show the process by which each entity develops their budgets.
The cost of education, like many things today, continues to rise and the School Board’s budget reflects that. This year the budget request by the School Board is roughly $17 million more than last year’s funded budget with a $13 million dollar funding gap the School Board is asking the Board of Supervisors to fund. Items included in the School Board’s funding request include additional teachers to meet the demands of a growing population, additional Special Education teachers to meet the needs of a growing special education student population and a 2.5% salary increase for all school division employees.
As they have in the past, the School Board provided the Board of Supervisors with the list of items that they are seeking to increase funding and the items that are required by state or other mandate to fund. The mandated expenditures are $5.4 million to ensure schools are staffed and supplied to meet federal, state and local standards. The other signifcant cost driver in the budget is a 2.5% COLA for all school division employees. That cost is $5.2 million. Those two items alone account for over 50% of the budget increase.
The request is being met with hesitation by the Board of Supervisors. While members of the Board of Supervisors have indicated their support for the proposed 2.5% salary increase included in the School Board’s budget, they have expressed concerns that the raises may not get to the teachers when the School Board adopts their final budget.
The Board of Supervisors and the School Board held a joint work session to discuss the budgets on Tuesday March 20th. Members of the Board of Supervisors had several questions for the School Board and their budget proposal. However, several Supervisors asked questions that appeared to be digging for improprieties buried in the schools’ budget.
Aquia Supervisor Cindy Shelton went on a quest asking why some technology supervisor positions had been moved around from last year’s budget, to which she was provided answers by School Board members on how priorities are set and SCPS CFO Chris Fulmer on how the changes were due to a newly implemented financial tracking software and using position control features within it. He further explained that the moves did not result in any increase to positions or costs.
Shelton also asked about priories to which several members of the School Board replied with how the Board adopts priorities and they are reflected in the budget.
George Washington District Supervisor Tom Coen dug in further with questions about Administrative Assistant’s pay and compensation studies. Superintendent Bruce Benson and members of the School Board replied with the priorities the School Board has had several years to bring all school division employees salaries inline the market. The School Board also rebuked Coen’s assertion that they board had recently paid for several compensation studies. The last compensation study for Administrative Assistants was in 2006 and more recent compensation studies for teacher and other employees were done internally and not contracted to outside firms.
Coen also inquired about positions advertised on the SCPS website and new positions of need identified in the school’s budget request. Coen appeared to confuse positions currently funded, job requisition postings, and positions in the budget request to meet growth needs. Some positions advertised on the SCPS website are positions that the division has had difficulty filling due to certification and license requirements, however they also keep many position requisitions open that are high demand positions that they know they will need to fill. Positions in the budget request are not yet funded and not yet advertised on the SCPS website.
Falmouth Supervisor Meg Bohmke inquired about a statement of zero-based budgeting and expenditures at elementary schools. Benson provided Bohmke the answer on school funding and why school expenditures differ from school to school.
Late in the meeting Garrisonville Supervisor Mark Dudenhefer questioned the market based teacher salary scale with a what appeared to be an indication that the School Board should look at capping salaries for experienced teachers high on the scale. However, as Benson responded to Dudenhefer’s concerns, the salary scale will correct itself as the School Board invests in the lower end of the scale, continue to provide all teachers a COLA and other jurisdictions that pay senior teachers less bring their scales up – which has been the recent trends.
The meeting wrapped up with discussion about school security and action both boards have taken. Despite Griffis-Widewater Supervisor Jack Cavalier having gone to the School Board at a recent meeting and asking them for input on what they need to improve school security, he and Dudenhefer appeared upset that the School Board had adopted a resolution asking the Board of Supervisors to fund a School Resource Officer (SRO) at every school. It also appears in retribution to the School Board’s action the Supervisors have taken it upon themselves to direct the Sheriff to form a task force that has excluded school division officials to discuss and develop recommendations for school security. The task force headed by Sheriff Decatur has been tasked to report to the Board of Supervisors’ Public Safety Committee, which meets “as required”, on Tuesday’s before the Board of Supervisors’ afternoon meetings.
COMING SOON: A look inside the County’s FY19 Proposed Budget