Wise County Public Schools (WCPS) Finance Administrator Beth Shupe reported the school division could see $2.48 million more from Richmond in 2018-19, although all things depend on final state budget deliberations by the Virginia General Assembly.
Along with an upward tick in sales tax revenues and a projected surplus as a result of better enrollment numbers than expected, the school division looks to enjoy its first annual budget deliberations in nearly a decade not in desperate straits.
Superintendent Greg Mullins told the board that if the enrollment numbers hold firm — the current year’s budget was built on a projected 5,000 enrollment, but that now stands at 5,999, translating into more state basic aid dollars than anticipated — the division hopes to be able to apply a potential $500,000-plus surplus toward a number of capital projects like new roofs, buses and other badly needed upgrades.
Meanwhile, the increase in state funds for next fiscal year evolves out of extra cash for financially strapped rural school divisions as legislators seem inclined to approve. It is this added boost for next fiscal year the board would use to finally be able to address teacher salaries that have been frozen since 2007-08.
In the proposal crafted by a board committee and discussed on Tuesday, teachers will receive significant pay raises in an attempt to make up for all the years without raises as well as set a scale based on years of experience. The largest raise in the proposal would be $3,761 for nine-year teachers with the least just $218 at the top of the scale, or 34 years.
There are a number of other $3,000-plus hikes mostly for years eight through 16, and many well into the $2,000-plus range for other years of service. The total cost would be just over $1.175 million, again slated to come from the expected boost in state funds.
The division also eyes a modest hike in health insurance rates. One option discussed by the board would be the division paying the increase in draft premiums and with familiar plan choices by employees involving $500, $1,000 and $2,800 deductible options.
One example is a $1,000 deductible plan with comprehensive dental/vision where the employee pays a $106 per month share for single coverage, $368 for dual or $538 for family coverage. Small monthly increases in the premiums would be picked up by the division.
A $1,000 deductible plan with preventive dental/vision coverage would have employee shares of $92 for single, $342 dual, and $500 family. Costs are higher for $500 deductible plans but pretty much what employees have been seeing this year.
The board also discussed a potential retirement incentive package and seemed to settle on exploring the options available for 30-year-plus employees involving the division paying 80 percent of the health insurance premium for retirees who might opt for it. However, there is no guarantee the board could continue that year-after-year for seven years or the retiree reaches Medicare eligibility age, depending on annual budgetary constraints.