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School board looks at budget

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Will meet Thursday for more discussion

By John Barnhart

    After more than three hours of looking at the budget proposed by Schools Superintendent Dr. Douglas Schuch, the Bedford County School Board opted to stick with the majority of his budget as a draft plan to present to the Board of Supervisors this week.
    That included a 3 percent raise for school employees, a commitment to funding technology and increasing the staff at the county’s middle and high schools.
    The budget is aided this year by an additional $6.1 million in state funding because of the city of Bedford’s reversion to town status, set to take place in July. Overall, the proposed budget is set at $104 million, up $5 million over the current 2012-2013 budget.
    In all, under the proposed budget, teachers would receive a 5.4 percent pay increase, but 2.4 percent of that is actually paying for their increased cost into the Virginia Retirement System. Though the school system is facing a 5.5 percent health insurance premium increase,  the   school   board’s plan is to cover the costs of that increase. Dr. Schuch has also proposed providing a $1,500 stipend this year to teachers fully licensed and teaching mathematics at the secondary schools.
    Board Vice Chairman Julie Bennington suggested a 5 percent pay increase for school employees. “We’re so far behind (other surrounding school divisions),” Bennington said of the county’s salary scale. “It could possibly pull us up a little bit.” By increasing the raise to 5 percent, the board would have to come up with an additional $1.1 million over the proposed budget, or find that much in cost savings.
    As for the math stipend, Dr. Schuch noted that an increase for math teachers was presented to the board by a representative of the Bedford County Education Association. But City Board member Mickey VanDerwerker said it wasn’t right to single out one discipline for a stipend.
    Dr. Schuch has also proposed adding seven new teachers at the secondary level, to help lower the student-to-teacher ratio, as well as providing funding for a mathematics coach. His plan calls for increases in technology spending to support wireless expansion in the secondary schools, support a five-year replacement cycle for computers and a $111,000 proposed increase to add two new staff members to the technology team—a technician and a procurement manager.
    According to Ed Hoisington, technology director for the school system, 85 percent of the school system’s computers were five years or older in 2010 and that has been reduced down to 40 percent in 2012. The goal is to reach a replacement cycle where all of the computers are replaced within a five-year window.
    The school board is also considering adding increased nursing support at some schools that only have a part-time nurse as well as funds to purchase new buses.
    The budget also includes a state mandated school division efficiency review, at a cost of $120,000.
    Board Chairman Gary Hostutler said the proposed budget, in essence, asks $2.1 million less from the county than last year. He supported a stipend for math teachers calling it a move towards the private-sector model. But Bennington said the stipend needed to be given each year, not as a one-time incentive. “I think we will have a better chance of keeping them,” she said of the teachers who would receive the stipend.