Money for schools

School budget season began last week as the superintendents of Stafford County and Spotsylvania County public schools presented their proposed budgets for fiscal year 2020, which begins July 1. 

Stafford Superintendent Scott Kizner, who started in the position this summer, presented a $308.2 million operating budget to the School Board. It proposes an increase of $18 million, or 6.4 percent, over the current fiscal year's budget. It asks Stafford County to contribute $128.8 million in local funding, an increase of $7.9 million. 

Spotsylvania Superintendent Scott Baker's total proposed operating budget is $302.1 million. It recommends requesting $140.8 million in local funding, $12.3 million more than the FY19 contribution.

"This is reflective of the need to add more funding at all three levels—federal, state and local—but the locality is where we are most likely to see increased funding," Baker said. 

Both budgets state as priorities the recruitment and retention of qualified teachers and support staff to ensure that all children receive a good education.

"The budget is designed to make sure it is child-centered, focusing on teaching and learning," Kizner said in an interview Wednesday. 

The Virginia House of Delegates plans to include a 5 percent raise for teachers, to take effect over two years. Gov. Ralph Northam's proposed budget also included the raise, as well as funding for additional school counselors. 

Kizner's proposed budget includes a 5 percent raise for teachers and staff and a 3 percent raise for administrators, as well as funding for phase one of a compensation study. 

According to Kizner's presentation, teachers in Stafford start out making about $10,000 less than they do in Prince William County—the locality to which Stafford loses the most teachers. Twenty-five years into their careers, Stafford teachers are making more than $40,000 less than peers in Prince William.

Kizner's budget requests 92 new full-time positions, including 27 new teachers—seven in elementary, 15 in middle school and four in high school—to support growth and a reduced class size initiative.

His presentation shows the student-teacher ratio in Stafford elementary schools is 16.45, higher than the state average of 13.08. 

Average daily membership in Stafford schools has been on a trend of consistent growth since 2009. Projected attendance for 2020 is 29,351.

"We also want to offer more learning opportunities for students, including foreign language in middle school and firefighting in high school," Kizner said. "We want to make sure we're providing different options for math and science in high school."

Kizner's budget also requests 17 new full-time guidance counselors, spread out over all grade levels, and 33 new positions in special education to support a consistently growing population of students with physical, emotional and learning disabilities. 

"It's about equity," Kizner said. "We want to educate the whole child and a lot of children need more support. We have to make sure we're providing funding to support special needs."

In Spotsylvania, Baker's budget recommendation includes the teacher pay raise of 5 percent as well as a $10 increase in the daily rate for substitute teachers, a $1.50 raise in the hourly rate for custodians and $500,000 for employee tuition reimbursement. 

It includes a $7.9 million investment in school and student support staffing, requesting funding for 14 new school counselors, 10 English as a second language teachers, 18 special education teachers, 14 social workers, 24 general education teachers and seven security officers for middle schools.  

Baker said his budget reflects a need to focus on "the two Ps," pay and people.

"The bottom line is that we need to address teacher and staff salaries, as well as student support staff and leadership," he said. 

Baker's budget also asks for increased investment in high school band travel and uniforms, athletic transportation, the activity bus pilot program and cafeteria monitor support in elementary schools. 

The Spotsylvania budget presentation shows that enrollment has declined since 2008, from 24,197 to 23,674. The number of white students also declined during that period while the number of minority students has increased. 

As in Stafford, Spotsylvania schools have seen an increase in the number of enrolled students who have disabilities and those who are English learners. 

Baker stressed that fewer total students does not mean less money is needed. 

"There has been a sharp increase in students with disabilities, the high-intensity need population," he said. "And that places a significant need on the locality to support."

Baker said school budgets must consider equity, which is not the same as equality. Some students need extra support in order to access the same level of education.

"The budget must reflect the needs of our students today, not our students 10 or 20 years ago," he said. 

Both the Spotsylvania and Stafford proposed budgets must be approved by the local school boards and boards of supervisors.

The Fredericksburg School Board will hear a presentation on the proposed budget at its meeting Monday.

King George County and Caroline County school division budgets will be presented the following week. 

Adele Uphaus-Conner: 540/735-1973


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