After months of discussion, the Patrick County Board of Supervisors and the Patrick County School Board reached an agreement regarding the school division’s funding at a joint meeting on May 23.
The supervisors approved appropriating up to $500,000 for the 2021-2022 fiscal year to meet the school division’s funding need.
A resolution stating that the supervisors will follow all parts of the proposed budget for the upcoming school year also was made.
Clyde DeLoach, chairman and of the Blue Ridge District, said the resolution would be approved at the proper time. “We are committed to doing that,” he said.
In his proposal, Schools Superintendent Jason Wood said the school system still needed $500,000 in appropriations for the current fiscal year to meet the required local match. The school division must certify to the state that the required amount of funds was spent on local match programs.
“The solution for this amount of money, I know it wasn’t budgeted from the county side, and there was no blame placed anywhere. There were mistakes made, so moving forward all we can do is look at solutions,” he said.
With the $500,000, Wood said the school division also would certify spending those funds for the cost of School Resource Officers (SROs), which is $402,793 according to County Administrator Geri Hazelwood.
“We would pay that back to the county before June 30. That money would then go back to the county and then the additional money there would be spent by the county school system so we can make sure that we spent the correct amount of funds to meet required local match in our annual school report,” Wood said.
He added that the calculation tool used to figure out the local funds is specified by the state. “This is a record budget for education, and coming out of a pandemic I think a lot of people realize the importance of education.
Both former Gov. Ralph Northam and current Gov. Glenn Youngkin “have record budgets for education, and we are still waiting on the final calculation. We don’t know exactly what that number will be,” Wood said.
In the upcoming fiscal year, the school board is asking the county to appropriate $100,000 above the required local match. With supervisor approval, the division can carry funds not spent into future years as a capital improvement line item, added to the one percent sales tax increase fund.
In addition to providing flexibility, the funding that exceeds the required local match also will eliminate nearly all likelihood that school officials would need additional funds if there were a budget adjustment or if enrollment increases.
Wood said the school division will then commit $225,000 to the payment of SROs every year, which is “a net savings for the county of $125,000,” he said.
The school division also offered to pay for library staff services for the bookmobile.
“For example, if we contracted the bookmobile for $10,000, that would be $10,000 we could add to the library’s budget so that they could give pay increases or however they choose to do that,” Wood said.
The school division also could take over the lease on Rotary Field to help offset the cost to the county and because the school division uses the field as it as an extension of its athletic facility.
“A total would be approximately $150,000 of expenses that the county currently incurs that the school system would help save,” Wood said, adding those funds could be used “for public safety, or whatever. But we would incur those costs because we are benefiting from” those services.
Denise Stirewalt, of the Peter’s Creek District, said she appreciated the school board’s creativity with the proposal, but she noted the funding comes from state and county funds.
“Doing the Rotary lease” you’re paying for it with county funds, Stirewalt said. “The library and bookmobile is still county funds, and SROs is still county funds. So, like I said I appreciate you all trying to be creative, but it still falls under county because no state funds would be used for that correct?”
Wood said the proposal would repay the county for services the school division uses.
“Because if we cut that money from our budget, then we do not meet required local match and then we lose 75 percent match funds,” Wood said, adding that if the school division cuts $500,000 from its budget, it loses $2 million.
“When our budget is mostly made up of staffing, 75 percent of cutting $2 million is cutting staff. That would be detrimental to our school system, our employees, and the economic development of the entire county with us being the largest employer in the county,” Wood said.
Brandon Simmons, of the Dan River District, said Stirewalt’s assessment was correct, in essence.
“You’re right in essence that we’re getting a refund. It’s more or less unfortunate how they make us do all this stuff. It’s the way the state makes you do it,” he said.
Following the approval of the school division’s proposal Walter Scott, of the Smith River District, asked the supervisors to approve a resolution that the county would meet the required local match and required local effort every fiscal year.
DeLoach said a resolution means nothing.
“I’m sorry, we can have a resolution, but it doesn’t mean anything because the next board can come right along and say ‘no,’” he said.
DeLoach noted that the two boards have been working together behind the scenes to reach this agreement.
“I personally don’t think it is best to negotiate in the press. I think I have been honest about this from the beginning, there is a fundamental disagreement from the beginning of this process, and we have worked together to try and resolve it,” he said.
To avoid appearing like the two entities were disagreeing even more, DeLoach said the boards had not presented their ideas.
“We just waited until we think we have something,” he said, adding about the boards had a deal more than a month ago that fell through. He added that the school board’s “help, creativity, and candor” was
In other matters, the board:
*Heard from Kurt Bozenmayer, who addressed the board regarding communication issues with the public. Bozenmayer said he previously spoke with the board in mid-2021 about the difficulties county residents experienced in finding out about the issues confronting the board.
“We started the year with some encouraging improvements, such as the well-attended local district meetings hosted by Mr. (Doug) Perry, and Dr. DeLoach was quoted in March as planning monthly radio broadcasts on WHEO radio; if those broadcasts are taking place, they are not well published,” he said.
Bozenmayer said former supervisor, the late Dr. Lock Boyce, implemented a weekly online webcast where he discussed many of the issues facing the board. “Some people liked Dr. Boyce and some folks didn’t care for him, but he did make a sincere effort to publicize the activities of the board,” he said.
Bozenmayer added that Wood has also been active in disseminating information about the school budget on the Internet.
At the May 9 meeting, Bozenmayer said the board passed several motions concerning Employee Code of Ethics, Summer Flex Time Policy, and Fire & EMS Exemption, and he did not notice any discussion of what those motion involved and was unable to find anything online about it.
“While Mr. Wood and the school board have gone out of their way to ensure that the citizens of Patrick County are informed on the progress of their efforts in getting their budget passed, the Board of Supervisors and the County Administration is resoundingly quiet on what business is taking place,” he said.
Bozenmayer said he is also surprised that only one person so far has appeared before the board to comment on the proposed redistricting changes. He noted that information on the budget proposals were recently available on the county’s website opening page, but now seem to have been removed or relocated.
Bozenmayer said he also understands the massive amount of work that goes into budget considerations and the time supervisors and school officials invest in answering his questions.
“However, I believe that both the public and the board would be well served if there were monthly question-and-answer sessions available, without waiting for public comments and meeting reports” to be published, he said.
*Heard from Norma Bozenmayer, who spoke about the importance of working together. During a recent fundraiser event, she said that people stepped up to work together when the event was understaffed. “It’s what I’ve come to love about this community. People stepping up to help solve problems, sharing ideas, and working together.”
Norma Bozenmayer said that is probably why she found the interactions between the two boards so disturbing. “I witnessed an uncomfortable animosity between the two elected boards that doesn’t fit the Patrick County I know. It definitely doesn’t solve any problems.
“I heard a community member recently joke when they heard about this joint meeting tonight that they ‘better bring a First-Aid kit.’ It was supposed to be funny, but I just find it sad that the perception is that the two boards would need” it, she said.
*Heard from Joanne Spangler, of JEB Stuart Rescue Squad, who discussed Emergency Medical Service (EMS) budgets and billing practices. “We’re really concerned about the budget being cut and our county funds being cut in half. The volunteer agencies were already struggling, and it just seems like cutting everything is making it a lot worse than what some people may think it is,” she said.
Spangler said it is disheartening to work as hard as you can, and confront the misperception that some think otherwise. “There’s a lot of people doing a lot more than what” is seen, she said.
“Trust me, we understand that,” Stirewalt said.
Spangler said the fire departments and rescue squads are unsure of how to get or apply for capital improvement money. “There’s no information been put out there other than we’re not cutting it out, it’s a grant. That’s not enough information from where we’re sitting,” she said.
Spangler said a centralized billing system would be detrimental to many squads, “because we would not have our funds when we need them. We use our funds as we get them because it’s not like we’re for-profit and we continually have a big pot of money just” ready to use, she said.
She added that countywide billing would be more of a hinderance than a help to volunteer agencies.
*Appointed Danny Foley to the Economic Development Authority (EDA) until Aug. 2024.
*Appointed Dale Puckett to the Solid Waste Committee.
*Appointed Barbara Jo Newton to the Planning Commission until Jan. 2024.
*Approved the budget committee’s recommendation excluding a request for a skid steer/bush hog for the maintenance department. Approved items include an increase in contributions to operations for Volunteer Fire & EMS and a health insurance premium supplement/increase for county administration.