Setting the record straight

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By Jeanne McKeague

    Supervisor Annie Pollard has again offered further justification in her attempt to “set the record straight.”
    Supervisor Pollard correctly states the School Board is responsible for adjusting teacher pay raises and that school salaries are allocated by the School Board. Supervisor Pollard fails to acknowledge the School Board has no authority to generate revenue and is instead at the mercy of the Board Supervisors at the local level and the State and Federal Government for funding that often includes unfunded Federal and State mandates forced upon our educational system, combined with Federal and State funding decreases.
    While local governments and taxpayers cannot compensate for all funding shortfalls, level funding by our Board of Supervisors places the burden squarely on the back of the School Board, with no revenue-generating ability, to bridge those funding shortfalls, resulting in deep cuts to the yearly School Board budget, as evidenced over the past five years.
    Bedford County continues to bear the battle wounds of threatened school consolidations and closures, difficult and often tense interactions between our elected Board of Supervisors and School Board, a perceived lack of transparency and citizen trust, the loss of hundreds of school employees and millions of dollars to the School Board budget, combined with the need for a new school in the Liberty zone.
    Supervisor Pollard is correct that the School Board’s upcoming budget has increased from $98M to $102M. However, this increase did not come through local funding from the Board of Supervisors and does not increase per pupil spending to almost $10,000 as Supervisor Pollard claims. Instead, the increase comes from $6M in reversion funding combined with the State’s salary match program requiring localities to fund raises to meet program eligibility.
    The upcoming year’s per pupil spending is projected to increase from the current $8,480 to $8,897, yet the Board of Supervisors local contribution decreases by $215 per student. This information is readily available on the school system’s We bsite to anyone, ordinary citizens and elected officials alike. http://bedford.sharpschool.net/UserFiles/Servers/Server_1057178/File/Dep...
    Supervisor Pollard alludes to retirement benefits and insurances paid by County taxpayers. For years the State raided the VRS (Virginia Retirement System) coffers to balance the State’s budget. Across the Commonwealth, teachers, State employees and local governments are faced with mandates to replenish those funds. The 3 percent pay increase in the 2013-14 school budget matches the increase County employees are receiving under the Board of Supervisors’ approved budget. Additional funds above this raise will not go into the pockets of employees, but rather to the Commonwealth of Virginia to offset mandated replenishments to the VRS fund.
    The 2013-14 Bedford County School budget begins to address years without raises, bottom-ranked State per pupil spending and salaries. However, other localities are also taking advantage of the State salary match program, likewise increasing per pupil spending and salaries, making it difficult to rise from the bottom even in the face of an increase. 39 percent of Bedford County employees earn under $30,000 per year. Following four years of college, starting teachers earn $37,627. After 15+ years, teachers may earn the average $42,000.
    There are indeed citizens in Bedford County who are struggling. Many of them are hard-working, dedicated and valued employees that are employed by our local school system.