Wise school budget seeks $750,000 hike in local funds

Stephen Igo • Apr 17, 2007 at 12:21 PM

WISE - The Wise County School Board on Monday added another $150,000 to the increase in local funds county taxpayers will be asked to deliver for 2007-08.

The school board voted 8-0 to increase the stipend paid teachers with master's degrees from $2,000 to $3,000, and those with educational specialist (Ed.S.) certificates from $500 to $1,500. The budget already includes a 5 percent pay raise for teachers, an 8 percent pay increase for support personnel, and 4 percent for administrative personnel.

The board then voted to send the budget proposal to the county Board of Supervisors with an additional $150,000 to the roughly $600,000 in "new" county tax dollars already in the draft budget proposal, to bring the local funding request from supervisors to about $750,000 for next year, all driven by wages and benefits.

Wise County taxpayers provide about $14.3 million to the school division this year, and the increase will approach $15 million for next year. The stipend increases were requested by the Wise County Education Association. Margaret Craft was wary of upping the ante to the Board of Supervisors. She said supervisors might send the package back to the school board with directions to cut other items from the budget.

The total school operations budget for next fiscal year is $45.8 million, nearly $1.5 million more than the current year. Most of the operations budget reflects salaries and benefits. The total budget is closer to $75 million including federal dollars, flow-through funds for specific programs and other budget categories. State funds make up the lion's share of Wise County's school division budget. Next year nearly $40.7 million in state funds are for county schools, an increase of $1.43 million over the current year.

In other matters, the board was compelled to defer acceptance of the low bid offered on a project to build a new gym and other amenities at Coeburn Middle School. Betty Cornett refused to allow the item to be added as a voting matter on the agenda because she hadn't had time to review the bid information.

Board policy is unanimous consent to add last-minute items to the agenda. The bid opening was Friday, and Big Stone Gap-based Quesenberry's Inc. entered the low bid of $2.75 million on a project estimated to cost $3.2 million. The other two bidders were just over and just under $3.2 million.

Quesenberry's bid allows Coeburn Middle School to have a slightly bigger gym to accommodate another set of bleachers. The board previously sanctioned the larger gym if a bid accommodated the $3.2 million threshold, and Quesenberry's did better than that, significantly undercutting the other two bidders on that option, too, for only $38,800 on top of the $2.75 million base project bid.

Cornett's refusal frustrated Board Vice Chairman Kyle Fletcher, who argued in vain to have Quesenberry's bid added to the agenda as a voting, rather than informational, item. Board Chairman Barry Nelson indicated he would call a special meeting to vote on the bid because time was of the essence.

In other matters, the board held a moment of silence for the scores killed and wounded at Virginia Tech and their families. Wise County School Superintendent Greg Killough's father, Larry N. Killough, is a professor of finance and accounting at Virginia Tech. Killough's own daughter, Desiree, was a student and resident assistant - not at the dorm involved in Monday's shootings - last semester at Virginia Tech but transferred to the University of Virginia's College at Wise for the current spring term.

Killough also has two nephews who are students at Virginia Tech, and one of them was in the engineering building where most of the fatalities occurred. None of Killough's family was hurt, he said, but certainly shaken by the ordeal.

"It took me three hours to get through (by telephone to his father and other members of his family) because all the lines were blocked up," Killough said.

He said his father reported the situation was "very scary" but was primarily concerned with those who lost loved ones, and that was foremost in his son's mind as well.

"I can't even imagine," said Killough. "My biggest thought is for all those people who lost someone in such a needless, tragic way."

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