Accomack school budget faces almost $500K shortfall

ACCOMAC, Va. (Delamarva Now) -- The three people who spoke at a public hearing for Accomack County Public Schools' Fiscal Year 2018 budget said they are concerned about special education services in the county.

The nearly $50 million school budget, as proposed, has a shortfall of around $483,000, according to Beth Onley, Accomack County Public Schools Finance Director.

"As you go forward with this budget, I would just like to remind you all ... we reduced all the student support monitors' hours ... to avoid having to offer them health insurance," said Janet Turner, a former school board member and parent of students.

Turner said the action "did not appear to be student centered."

Student support monitors provide support "for an individual with disabilities who has complex needs," according to a guidance document approved by the school board in November 2016.

"The additional support is necessary to assist classroom staff in facilitating the student in advancing appropriately toward annual goals; involvement and progress in the general/aligned curriculum; participation in nonacademic activities; (and) participation with other students," according to the document.

One of those monitors, Diane Atkinson, also spoke at the hearing.

"We've never seen a pay increase ... Some of you don't know what some of us go through in a day's time," she said, adding she feels proud when she is able to help keep a child in the classroom.

"But, more important, it's not about me. It's about that child being successful," she said. "Try to reconsider our hours ... We need to be there for those children."

Eileen Holcomb of Chincoteague told the school board she currently is homeschooling her son, who has a learning disability, "because I feel our district at this time does not have the services that we need to support him sufficiently, particularly in the area of teaching him to read as a dyslexic child."

She said the Virginia General Assembly House and Senate had just approved legislation requiring that one reading specialist in each school district be designated as a dyslexia advisor.

The proposed budget of $49,906,272 is larger than this year's adopted budget of $48,486,218.

It includes a 1.5 percent bonus for all employees, as proposed by the governor, in addition to a salary step increase for teachers and a corresponding 1.34 percent increase for classified employees and a 1 percent increase for administrative staff, School Superintendent W. C. Holland and School Board Chairman Ronald Holden wrote in a letter to the citizens of Accomack County prefacing the budget document.

It will cost the school district an additional $304,000 to cover its share of a state-mandated rate increase for the Virginia Retirement System, according to the letter.

Holland and Holden in the letter said the district's focus for the coming year is on three areas "which we are proposing as budget priorities."

First is to increase the number of students who participate in the Career and Technical Education program.

The second priority is on retaining teachers and being competitive in hiring teachers.

Third, the district "will evaluate administrative and supervisory positions so that compensation is reasonable and appropriate for staff members at all levels," they wrote.

Onley told the school board the district has to "wait and see what's the final word from the state" on what funds will be forthcoming. The school district's budget is based on the governor's proposed budget and on local funding expected from the county based on a longstanding funding formula.

The governor's proposed budget would bring an overall increase in state revenues to the district of $543,772, and a local increase of $392,663 from the county is anticipated based on the funding formula.

An additional $503,500 is expected to be available for use due to savings from salary lapse — the difference between the higher salaries paid to teachers with more years of experience who leave and the lower salaries paid the new hires who replace them.

The budget, as proposed, includes additional expenditures of $1.9 million, including money for the proposed bonus and raises and for the retirement increase.

Also included is funding for an additional school resource officer, with the cost to be split with the county, as well as for an accountant and a facilities position.

Health insurance also will cost the district $150,000 more next year, and a human resources/accounting database system is in the budget for $50,000.

Additionally, $25,000 is in the budget to increase coaching and activity supplemental pay; $50,000 is included for a special education teacher at Arcadia High School and $157,532 is included for two mobile units at Metompkin Elementary School, among other notable new spending proposed.

Accomack County Public Schools as of Jan. 31 has 830 full-time employees, including 491 teachers, and 5,338 students.

USA TODAY NETWORK


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