By Callie Hietala
Increased salaries across the board, additional staff, and increased operational costs were among the highlights of Henry County School’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
The proposal reflects an increase of nearly $12 million in state funding and an estimated request of $947,842 in local funds.
Assistant Superintendent for Operations and Administrative Services Dr. David Scott presented the budget to the Henry County School Board at its Feb. 3 meeting.
He said the current budget is built upon outgoing governor Ralph Northam’s introduced budget which, he said, “is very healthy for K-12 schools and we hope to see much of it remain intact.”
Scott said the proposed budget for fiscal year 2023 included $71,497,373 in state funding and a total local effort of $20,321,619, which includes $15,951,224 in local required effort and $4,370,395 in requested local leeway funds.
The previous budget year included $59,524,689 in state funds and a total local effort of $19,373,777, including $14,312,173 in local required effort and $5,061,604 in local leeway funds.
The increase in state funding, Scott said, was attributed to 4 major categories: $3.5 million to serve at-risk youth, $1.92 million in teacher and support position supplements, $3.83 million in school construction funds, and other fund adjustments to programs including special education and early reading interventions.
Scott said the budget includes plans for a 3-step increase to the teacher salary scale, and an average 6 percent teacher salary increase, which comes with a price tag of $3,040,000.
“Every year we investigate our scales,” he said, “we take a critical look at them to make sure there’s fairness within our system, but also (to see) how it compares to neighboring school divisions.” He explained that the county wants to make sure it stays competitive, using a salary scale that incentivizes employees to stay and attracts new employees to the district.
In addition to pay hikes for teachers, Scott said the division plans to increase pay across the board. Bus drivers and aides can expect a 5-10 percent increase, which will cost the division $285,000, while classified scales and administrator scales are budgeted for a 7 percent salary increase, costing $662,000 and $435,000 respectively.
In total, Scott said the increases will cost $4,422,000, with a state compensation supplement of $1.92 million and a local share of $535,000.
Other pay scale adjustments include adjusting rates for part-time positions to ensure that minimum wage requirements are met, and moving heath office assistants and office assistants to equitable pay scales.
In addition to wage increases for existing staff, the budget Scott presented included plans to hire a number of new personnel.
“We know that our student population is subject to change every year, and we are blessed to have students from all demographics coming into our area, so we want to respond to that,” he said. “We also know the introduced budget includes a large increase in at-risk funding” which will help put teachers in classrooms to address learning loss.
The proposed new hires include 3 coordinators (for a total of $276,000), 2 English language teachers ($183,000), 3 special education teachers ($276,000), 5 special education paraprofessionals ($270,000), 13 classroom teachers ($1,081,000) and 3 related service positions ($250,000.)
Scott said that the proposed budget included $1,470,000 in increased operational costs. That total included $125,000 increase to the transportation budget, a $600,000 increase to the general maintenance budget, and $200,000 in instructional resources, among other items.
The proposed budget contains a number of new capital improvement project proposals, including a bus rider canopy at Drewry Mason Elementary, renovations necessary for reversion, the relocation of the central office, and turf fields at the high schools.
Projects already on the list include field houses at the high schools, placing generators at secondary schools, handicap upgrades at several school locations, and a number of HVAC replacements.
The list of capital improvement projects, Scott said, “would be a lot longer” if not for the influx of COVID relief money received by the schools.
The school division has received “a significant amount of money in grant funds”—just over $32 million, according to Superintendent Sandy Strayer.
She emphasized that the funding must be used on COVID-related issues—air quality, personal protective equipment, testing kits, and addressing learning loss.
“There’s a common misconception,” Strayer said, “that because we have all this grant funding, it’s allowed us to save money on the local side that we can use for other expenditures, but this is not the case. The grant funds have to be used for these certain projects that might not have ever been completed if we hadn’t received this money, or they wouldn’t have been completed for decades.”
Lisa Millner, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, enumerated the ways the funding was being spent.
Some money went toward funding several years of after school tutoring and summer school expenses, and the placement of a paraprofessional at each elementary and middle school (elementary schools with 400 or more students were assigned on additional paraprofessional each.)
Additionally, funds were spent for stipends and compensation of various staff members—teachers and paraprofessionals covering classes due to the substitute shortage for COVID-related absences, compensation for nurses on night and weekend duty, and teachers teaching additional virtual classes on top of their normal class load.
Millner said funds also were tapped to hire additional nursing staff, 2 elementary assistant principals, and other positions to assist with small-group instruction or to help shorten learning gaps.
Funds went toward a number of other items, including the installation of Wi-Fi in school parking lots, a variety of technology, personal protective equipment, no-touch thermometers, COVID testing kits, updated furniture to allow for social distancing, and various online resources and platforms.
Some of the money was directed toward subsidizing cafeteria funds and purchasing packaging materials and other supplies to allow for meal deliveries, Millner said.
Director of Facilities Maintenance Keith Scott told the board funding also was used to buy Clorox machines, HVAC upgrades and equipment, and paying staff for the additional hours worked to sanitize schools.
In other matters, the board:
*Heard from Jeff Evans, a pastor at a Ridgeway church, who said he was thankful for Gov. Youngkin giving authority back to the parents in regard to mask mandates. He also spoke out against critical race theory. “I think it’s ungodly. I think it’s the opposite of what America stands for,” he said.
*Recognized February as School Board Appreciation Month.
*Recognized School Board Clerk Appreciation Week.
*Recognized February as Black History Month.
*Read a resolution recognizing February as Career and Technical Education Month.
*Read a resolution proclaiming Feb. 7-11 as School Counseling Week.
*Presented a certificate to Campbell Court Counselor Clifton Jones, who was named a “Difference Maker” by the Virginia Department of Education.
*Heard an update from Millner on the Inspire 2025 program which, she said, was the division’s strategic plan “and it is what guides and leads our work in Henry County Public Schools.”