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School Board begins its budget talks: Dr. Schuch's proposal calls for additional $4.4 million from county

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By Tom Wilmoth

    School Superintendent Dr. Douglas Schuch presented his proposed $109 million budget to the Bedford County School Board last Thursday; this week board members start putting their own marks on the school budget request.

    The County Board of Supervisors will have the final say when it decides on its ultimate allocation of local funds for the school budget.
    Dr. Schuch’s proposal asks for $4.4 million in additional county funds—$43.4 million in all —over this year’s local allocation. In addition, his proposal calls for funds to begin to be set aside to build a new secondary school in the Liberty Zone. His proposal does not include a salary increase for employees.
    This Thursday, 6 p.m., the board is scheduled for a work session on the proposed budget.
    Highlights of Dr. Schuch’s budget proposal include:
    • providing funding to improve technology in county schools by increasing Internet bandwidth and providing devices (tablets or laptops) for all ninth grade students;
    • adding teacher positions to support schools that have not met state accreditation standards in mathematics (11 of the county’s 21 schools fall into this category);     • restoring local funding for operations, textbooks and maintenance to funding levels prior to the recession; and
    • providing $3.5 million to fund health insurance premium increases and the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) contributions for employees.
    His budget does, however, call for an overall reduction of full-time employees—19.5 teaching and administrative positions—based upon staffing standards because of projected reductions in student enrollment.
    “We are very blessed to live and serve in a community that values education, not just to produce educated citizens and to meet the needs of the future workforce, but also to improve local economic development and our overall quality of life,” Dr. Schuch said in his statement to the board.
    Dr. Schuch said that local employers are making it clear that a high school diploma is “no longer good enough for the majority of jobs that our students will pursue after graduation.”
    The budget proposal calls for increased funding for student Advanced Placement tests, assistance for students in the Early College Program and to fund tuition increases at both of the region’s governor’s schools. He also said more opportunities need to be provided for students to earn career-specific credentials.
    Education, he said, is being “radically transformed by technology.”
    That means a growing expansion of a personalized learning experience for students. Last year all of the county’s secondary schools became wireless and this year’s proposed budget calls for the same to be completed in the upcoming year for the county’s elementary schools. “With wireless schools and increased bandwidth, our connectivity will support personalized learning opportunities,” Dr. Schuch stated.
    Though facing cuts in state funding, the budget proposal also maintains the current level of funding for the Virginia Preschool Initiative preschool programs.
    This week’s work session is expected to focus, in part, on the cost of employee health insurance and the sustainability of the school system’s current plans.
    Dr. Schuch told the board he is concerned that the county has failed to articulate how the new school projects will be financed. “I think it is important that we get a clear understanding of the new school financing plan before we proceed with any actions that might jeopardize future school division operational budgets,” he said.
    “I believe that we need to have serious discussion with the county and the community about the overall level of funding that the school division has historically received from the county, and what we can realistically expect in the future,” he said. “Though our local funding request is significantly greater than the placeholder for revenue that the county has included in its initial budget draft, my hope is that you can help me convince our community and our Board of Supervisors that funding this budget is in the best interest of all of our citizens.”    
    During the public comment time Fred Glover spoke concerning the budget and the need for additional funds. “You are given a budget that would barely compete in the 20th century,” he said of the need for additional funds. “Our teacher salaries don’t even compete with the rest of western Virginia.”