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By delaying the release of a proposed budget, and by speaking with numerous civic and school groups, the Bedford County School Board and school administration officials hope that this year’s budget process will be less controversial than it has been the past couple of years.
Those past budget discussions led to clashes between the public and the school board and administration—as proposals to close schools created acrimony—and between the school board and the board of supervisors over funding for the school system.
All involved appear ready to put the past two years behind them and work towards a more acceptable budget process.
Becky Griffith, speaking during a public hearing on the school budget Thursday, said she would like to see lower student-to-teacher ratios as well as better teacher retention and raises for teachers.
And, she said, parents want to “keep schools open.”
She noted that the board of supervisors ultimately holds the purse strings to help make those priorities happen, adding that a decision by the supervisors to withhold a million dollars from the school budget last year “hurt every student in Bedford County schools.”
Griffith said the school board has been held accountable by the cuts that have been made in funding the budget and that “it’s time for the board of supervisors to face the same accountability.”
“The time has come when we must end fighting with one another,” she said of working for “the common good.”
Elizabeth Creasy, speaking for the county’s PTAs, said a goal for this year’s budget should be to keep all county schools open and all sports teams intact. If that doesn’t happen, she said there will be “more kids on the street not doing the things they should be doing.”
Karen Nuzzo, who spoke at the hearing briefly on behalf of the Bedford County Education Association, said “we cannot put our children first if we put our teachers last.”
According to a report from Randy Hagler, the chief financial officer for BCPS, the school system is expected to end this operating year with a $1 million surplus of funds. “We’re looking pretty strong for this year,” he said.
Hagler also said the governor’s amendments to his proposed budget could mean an additional $243,000 for next year’s budget. He also suggested having the school system delay using the rest of its federal stimulus funds until after this budget year ends.
School Superintendent Dr. Douglas Schuch will present his budget to the school board on March 15. The plan is then for the school board to debate and prepare a budget to be presented to the board of supervisors by the end of March.
One of the biggest concerns—“the elephant in the room” as it’s been called—is a proposed additional expense due to a change in rates of the Virginia Retirement System, a possible $3 million additional expense.
School funding issues also came up during Thursday’s meeting on a discussion of what to do with leftover funds—$1.43 million—from the Jefferson Forest High School project.
The school administration has proposed having those funds placed in the school maintenance project fund to help take care of some needed projects that have gone unfunded the past couple of years. “There are a lot of things that have been deferred over the years,” District 4 board member Gary Hostutler said of the maintenance projects list. “We’ve been sitting on these for three years now.”
The board is also considering moving $450,000 from leftover operating funds from the 2010-2011 school year into the textbook fund. Next year the school system is slated to replace textbooks in English, reading and science. The current $1.5 million in that fund would not cover those replacements, according to school officials.
Action on both of those requests will be considered at the next school board meeting. If approved, the request will then be forwarded to the board of supervisors for approval.