The New Year will bring a “positive” proposed budget for Hanover schools.
Superintendent Dr. Jamelle Wilson’s spending plan, proposed Jan. 23, increased by $8.6 million to $170.7 million over the previous year’s operating budget of $162.1 million.
“This budget is balanced and reflects the school board goals and what the community feels is important,” Wilson said.
This time around the school division hopes to add 18 new teacher positions — 14 K-12 classroom instructors, two gifted teachers at the middle school level and two resource teachers in the elementary schools for courses such as music, art and physical education.
Wilson has also proposed a 2 percent salary increase for all employees.
In addition, funding for the “Standards of Learning” will be restored for remedial and preparation courses for students. Approximately $200,000 will be allocated for this purpose.
A big portion of the money for the operating spending plan would be coming from the state, unless the state’s budget allocation for K-12 education changes at the end of the General Assembly session. There will be increased state aid, state Virginia Retirement System and Federal Insurance Contributions Act as well as aid for special education and pre-school totaling to about $6 million. The local contribution to the budget has also increased by $2.1 million since FY2014’s budget.
The additional help from both the county and state are assisting with adding funds for the instructional material financial plan, which covers daily supplies like paper and the on-going facility maintenance.
Beaverdam District representative John F. Axselle III said this is the last positive budget he’s seen in the first five or six years during Wilson’s budget presentation.
“Hopefully the economy keeps turning so we can keep on with this positive trend,” Axselle said.
The school system’s proposed five-year capital improvement plan totals $24.7 million, which is significantly less than last year’s CIP because the previous plan included four large school renovations, which have been “put on hold because of the economy,” said David Myers, assistant superintendent of business and operations.
In April, the joint education committee, which is made up of school board members and members of the board of supervisors, visited every school to determine whether the full renovations were needed this year. Myers said the revitalizations have been a part of the CIP since 2006 and the committee members decided that it was possible to hold off that work. Instead, the division hopes to have $17 million to go toward major maintenance projects.
“That’s more maintenance money that we’ve received since the economic downturn,” Myer said.
He said there is still not a need for new schools or classroom seats, but the goal now is to “maintain and maximize use of all [the] facilities.”
Some of the major projects that would be paid for with the allocated monies are kitchen and playground renovations, which Myers said would be part of full school revitalizations.
He added that the committee will revisit this topic each year to assess the division’s necessities.
Out of the capital spending plan, $1.6 million would go to buses and technology.
The technology budget, which consists of $1 million, would include replacements for things like servers and networks in all schools. It would also help buy more laptop carts and new mobile devices for schools and expand Wi-Fi coverage.
Myers said teachers will not be receiving their own devices this year because it would cost between $1 million and $2 million.
“At this moment the technology plan that’s in the CIP budget does not include devices for every teacher,” Myers said.
Some money will also be going into replacing old busses. About 34 of the school division’s 268 busses are over 15 years old. Myers said in the future, officials want to make sure busses are replaced within 16 years.
Part of the plan contains $5 million to be used in the future, but Wilson said those monies haven’t been allocated yet.
The Board will make a decision on the budget and capital improvement plan as late as Feb. 11 and if approved, it will be presented to the board of supervisors in late February. The last step will be a public hearing at the supervisors’ March 26 meeting, where citizens can have another opportunity to weigh in.
Public weighs in on education spending
Despite the second dose of snow Hanover County received Tuesday night, more than 20 citizens traveled to the school board office to weigh in on Superintendent Dr. Jamelle Wilson’s proposed budget.
A number of individuals voiced support for expanded funding for the division including the 2 percent salary increases for employees and additional instructional positions for the division.
“A year ago we weren’t looking like this,” said Patti Davis, a Beaverdam District resident and mother of students of Hanover schools.
Despite a desire for more of her concerns to be addressed, Davis said she experienced a whirlwind of positive emotions after seeing the proposed financial plan.
“Because there are actually things being put back into it,” she said.
The budget cuts over the recent years directly impacted Davis’ son, who she said has not been able to participate in some school programs. But her son may have access to those programs with the restoration of monies, she said.
Delving more into specifics, Kathy Abbott, Ashland community organizer for Friends of Hanover Schools, spoke on behalf of the education-focused group expressing their gratitude for a few items on the plan such as the new jobs added.
“I would like to commend Dr. Wilson and division staff for once again doing the best that can be done with the funds available [and] for reinstating 18 teaching positions, which is almost 10 percent of the 200 that we constricted over the recent years,” Abbott said.
Despite the obvious positives that many residents saw in the financial plan, Abbott like many others also voiced a few concerns.
Abbott pointed out that one worry was with technology, because although $1 million was allocated for that department, she said no devices for instructional purposes are included in the spending plan.
“Teachers need the tools to do their jobs,” Abbott said.
Chris Pace, who like Abbott and other citizens appreciated the new positions, expressed concerns with the significantly low amount of funding allocated for the division’s proposed CIP, which would cover the next five years.
Pace, a Hanover resident, said he did not understand how the CIP was cut, because of the age of some of the schools and the maintenance some may require.
“It does not make sense,” he said.
He pointed out schools with flat roofs that collect water over time and begin to leak, suggesting that roofs will need renovations. In hopes of solving the solution, Pace advised the board and school division officials communicate these issues to the board of supervisors, which he pointed out just approved a $44-million new courthouse building.
“I recognize that additional courthouse space is needed in Hanover, but renovations and additions to the existing buildings could’ve possibly been done at a lower cost, especially if the schools are at $55 million less for their capital needs,” he said.
The transportation of students with special needs or disabilities was also a hot topic with several residents such as Rob Isaacs, chairman for the special education advisory committee, or SEAC. Isaacs said many families have trouble finding ways to get their children to and from daycare that may or may not be in their school’s district.
“Let’s provide these families with assistance,” Isaacs said. “These are some families who do require some extra help.”
After several people echoed similar concerns, Chairman Robert L. Hundley Jr., who represents the Chickahominy District, acknowledged those who spoke up Tuesday evening.
“We take very seriously everyone’s comments and we will formulate lists with those and try to address those,” Hundley said.
The school board acknowledged that the inclement weather Tuesday night may have prevented some members of the public from commenting. They recessed the public hearing until Feb. 4 when the board will accept public comment and conduct a workshop on the proposed spending plan.