County Boards Discuss School Needs, Funding

Posted: November 27, 2013

MOUNT JACKSON — The Shenandoah County School Board and Board of Supervisors held a joint meeting on Monday at Triplett Tech to discuss capital improvement projects for public schools.

The School Board gave copies of its Capital Improvement Plan to supervisors and asked for their assistance in funding the roughly $10.6 million in projects it hopes to complete by 2019.

Many of the county’s public schools were built around the same time — the oldest in the division date to 1959 — so they may need expensive improvements and repairs at the same time, too, said Superintendent Jeremy Raley.

Supervisors David Ferguson and Sharon Baroncelli questioned where the money for the projects would come from.

Some community members have voiced strong opinions about the school budget, saying county funding for the spending plan should be reduced, Baroncelli said.

In addition, Raley said the school division may see increased costs of about $1 million because of proposed changes to the Virginia Retirement System. Ferguson asked if the division would be able to cut that money from somewhere else in the budget.

“You can’t strategically abandon $1 million from a school division budget that’s already running lean and mean and tight,” Raley said. “When 85 percent of your budget is personnel-driven, the other things associated with your budget are turning the lights on, running the school buses, and keeping the facility clean.”

Ferguson said the county’s revenue stream has been low the past few years. He’s not sure, he added, where the extra $1 million would come from.

“I don’t think we know that answer any more than you all at this point,” said School Board member Richard Koontz Jr.

Baroncelli did not run for re-election and will not be part of the budget-making process for the upcoming fiscal year. She said she hopes the new board maintains, if not increases, its financial support of the school system.

“I hope that the support of our school system, the support of the School Board members, support of staff, administration, is maintained, if not carried forward, in my absence,” Baroncelli said.

The school system’s plans include requests to fund new school safety equipment such as security cameras and upgrades to its doors, as well as its intercom, telephone and fire alarm systems. Suggested replacements of portions of the roofs at Ashby Lee, Sandy Hook and W.W. Robinson elementary schools, Peter Muhlenberg, North Fork and Signal Knob middle schools and Central, Strasburg and Stonewall Jackson high schools would cost an estimated $2.46 million.

The school division prioritized projects based on a 24-point scale. The system used several criteria, including how crucial repairs were to learning, health and safety, maintenance and energy efficiency, among others.

Projects with the most points are considered the most urgent.

Those deemed urgent and intended for completion in the next school year include ventilator replacements at Ashby Lee and W.W. Robinson, expected to cost $555,000, and a gymnasium addition at Sandy Hook — one of its two gyms doubles as a cafeteria and strains equipment and personnel, the plan states — estimated at $90,000.
In all, projects slated for next year would cost $870,000.

Raley said that the division’s administration and elected school officials have been working together to determine long-term goals for improving student performance. One of the school system’s hopes is to add engineering education options for students.

“The board has said it feels it’s very important that we design a way of making sure that our students are competitive in a global market,” Raley said. “That by the time they leave our schools, they’re able to compete for college, they’re able to compete for jobs in our community, and that they can be competitive not only in Shenandoah County but in the global community as well.”

Contact Kassondra Cloos at 574-6290 or kcloos@dnronline.com



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