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Scott County school officials set to work on next year's budget

Wes Bunch • Feb 9, 2013 at 10:50 AM

GATE CITY — With work on the fiscal year 2013-14 budget almost ready to begin, officials with Scott County Public Schools said earlier this week they hope to make up for an expected loss in local funding while still avoiding laying off any teachers.

The school system recently received its initial budget figures from Gov. Bob McDonnell’s office, but Scott County Public Schools Superintendent John Ferguson said those numbers will most likely change by the time the budget is adopted by the General Assembly.

“We just wanted to let people know where we’re at,” Ferguson said. “Essentially we have no figures, but at the same time we want to make the folks aware that the only thing out there at the present time is what the governor has proposed.”

Still, Ferguson said the governor’s proposals for 2013-14 do show some modest increases in some areas when compared to the current budget.

“Depending on what line item you look at, it may be a little bit more compared to last year, or it may be less,” Ferguson said. “But overall, it’s essentially the same as what was previously approved back in May (of 2012).”

The proposed budget calls for Scott County to receive a total of $25.2 million in state funding, an increase of almost 1.3 percent over the current budget.

The Scott County Board of Supervisors’ required match for education would also jump slightly to nearly $4.8 million. That total is nearly 1.4 percent higher than the county’s local match for 2012-13.

Despite those increases, Ferguson said the school system will face some financial challenges in the coming fiscal year.

One of those involves the loss of almost $1.6 million in extra funding the BOS allocated for the current school year to help cover a mandated increase in retirement contributions.

“Our goal last year was to preserve jobs, and we did that with the support of the board of supervisors,” Ferguson said.

Supervisors approved the additional funding for one year on the condition that the school system use the time to cut its budget by the same amount.

With avoiding layoffs being the school system’s number one goal, Ferguson said a number of steps have been taken to make up that funding, including finding ways to operate more efficiently and reducing positions through attrition instead of layoffs.

“If a teacher left, and we didn’t need to fill that particular area of expertise, we didn’t replace them,” Ferguson said. “We’re still going to be in the red, but it’s not as red as it was to begin with.

“We’re also doing what we need to on a day-to-day basis to keep our schools running and operating efficiently, too. We’re trying to be smart about how we spend our money.”

Another area of concern in the budget, Ferguson said, is a proposed 2 percent raise for a number of school system staff. He said the raise would further strain Scott County’s budget if it is approved in its current form.

“A raise is all well and good, but there are certain requirements the localities will have to meet,” Ferguson said. “Part of that is having the matching funds to go with it. A lot of times, there’s not enough money to cover your fringe benefits, so in turn, to give our folks — and they specify it’s for teachers, teachers aids, administrators, librarians, guidance counselors — a raise we’re looking at an extra commitment of $500,000.”

Ferguson added: “Eighty-eight of 133 school systems in the state that answered a survey at a legislative conference could not afford to give the 2 percent, and unfortunately Scott County is one of them. It’s also dependent on if the money is actually available. You can’t plan on ‘if it’s available,’ you have to know it will be there.”

If approved, Ferguson said the state’s portion of the total cost of the raise would amount to a little more than $200,000.

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