By Taylor Boyd
The proposed 2022-2023 Patrick County Public Schools budget was discussed at the joint budget committee meeting between the Patrick County School Board and the Patrick County Board of Supervisors on Thursday, Feb. 24.
Schools Superintendent Jason Wood said the minimum required local match is $6,606,741. This figure was calculated based on the average daily membership (ADM) of students attending Patrick County Schools.
Wood estimated that there would be 2,385 students enrolled in the school system next year. “We actually entered a lower ADM to try to help the locality out because we don’t know what the enrollment’s going to be. That’s why it’s a projected enrollment, and you can set your tax rate based on that,” he said.
If the enrollment is higher than the projected figure, the state will take care of the difference. “If it’s down, then we’re going to have do some budget scrambling in the spring to see what we’re not going to spend that we have budgeted for,” he said.
In the proposed state budget, Wood said there are a couple main highlights including $1,968,538 for school construction and renovation. “There’s no required match for that. So, that’s an amazing contribution to education,” he said.
A 5 percent minimum pay increase for this year and next year is another noticeable highlight. “We have to participate at some portion this year to be eligible for that raise next year,” he said.
Wood said the school added decreasing the employee portion of health insurance to the budget to remain competitive with other school divisions. More funds to attract and maintain employees to keep classroom sizes low, hiring an athletic trainer, and adding some needed capital projects like new school buses were also in the budget.
In the proposed budget, $22,087,922.88, or 64 percent, will go towards instruction and $2,473,127.84, or seven percent, will be for pupil transportation. $1,440,876.39 will be allocated for food services and technology will receive $1,927,265.43. Administration, attendance, and health will get $1,514,028.91, operations and maintenance will get $2,573,799.56, and facilities will receive $2,755,801.80, or eight percent of the budget.
In the upcoming year, Wood said the school division is going to be facing the salary and benefit gap for employees. “We have a starting teacher pay at $40,000 and Roanoke City is going to get $48,000. Henry County is already at $44,000, almost $46,000, and they’re projecting a 10 percent pay raise and they’re projecting a three-step increase for their teachers,” he said.
The division also will continue to face staffing issues. Wood said the school system has not been fully staffed at any point during the current academic year.
The school system currently has 10 openings, and one month, had 16 available. “These are positions that we desperately need for our students, and we need to be a better job at attracting people for those jobs,” he said.
Wood expects to have more openings in the 2022-2023 academic year, including eight more teacher slots. These openings are due to teachers retiring and leaving the profession.
“With all that are (the) increased demands on our teachers. We’ve got more teachers teaching four blocks at the high school than we ever have because we don’t have the staff,” he said. During the last personnel meeting data showed 11 teachers are teaching an extra block due to staffing issues.
Compared to other localities in the region, Wood said Patrick schools receive less funds from its locality. “Montgomery County, they fund their school division $21 million above the required local match. Henry County’s funding theirs $4.3 million above local match. Floyd is $2.5 million above local match, and last year, we were 43-cents above local match in Patrick County,” he said.
Wood said if the elected board chooses to not participate in the matching allocations and fund the required local match, the state will send the locality a bill for the difference. “So, the locality’s going to pay it to Richmond or they’re going to the school system. If they pay it to Richmond, we don’t get it and that’s a shame to our students,” he said.
While there are some categories the school division can opt out of, it doing so will decrease state funds. School Board member Walter Scott, of the Smith River District, said cutting the three optional categories from the school’s budget would save the county $360,000. “So, you’ll cut $360,000 off your budget going off of this and it costs us $2 million” in state funding, he said.
Wood said he would like the county to consider carry over funds for the school system. Senate Bill (SB) 481 encourages localities and school divisions to work together to allow for carry over funds that would be earmarked for capital projects. “So, if we got towards the end of our budget, and we had some funds in excess, then those could carry over and they’d be earmarked strictly for capital projects,” he said.
Wood said he would also like for the board to consider allocating some of its American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for the insurance account. He said the county and school system share an insurance account, with the school system putting in more than $270,000 of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds towards insurance. “If the county could consider doing something as well, I think it would help us get out of the hole,” he said.
Clayton Kendrick, of the Mayo River District, said he is really glad the two board can sit and talk. “We can only do what’s best for the county and the kids,” he said.
Denise Stirewalt, of the Peters Creek District, added that the boards are all on the same side.