Teacher Raises Spared in School Budget Balancing Act

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By Stefanie Jackson – The Accomack school board unanimously passed a budget for fiscal year 2020 on May 7, but not without a few major cuts.

Almost $565,000 was cut to balance the nearly $52 million budget, Director of Finance Beth Onley said Tuesday night.

Teacher raises were on the table to be cut, but they were spared. Accomack teachers will receive pay increases of 3%, at a cost of $1.125 million to the school division. Accomack school employees will also get another $300 each for health insurance.

Also among the other budget items that survived the cut was hiring a social worker for $50,000.

Major cuts included $100,000 for English textbooks and about $439,000 for five new school buses.

Onley assured the school board that there was an alternate plan for buying new school buses, and the school board adopted the budget.

In Accomack schools’ current operating budget, the category of transportation is running at a loss of about $130,000, due to older buses making multiple runs per day for “100 different reasons,” increasing fuel and repair costs, Onley said.

But overall, there are leftover funds in the operating budget for this school year, and she and Superintendent Chris Holland proposed using some of that money to pay for eight new school buses.

The buses will cost $716,000, including $614,000 for seven regular school buses and $102,000 for one special education bus.

Director of Elementary Schools Maribeth Haines expects to have leftover funds in K-3 this year to buy English textbooks for kindergarten through second grade.

Another high cost of concern to the school board is replacing the leaky roof at Pungoteague Elementary School with a new metal roof.

Since replacing the roofs at Chincoteague and Accawmacke elementary schools, Pungoteague Elementary, built in the early 1960s, has the most deteriorated roof of any school in the division.

The roof continually has to be patched, costing the school division thousands of dollars.

The original estimate to replace the roof was about $700,000. The price has now risen to more than $1.1 million.

Contractor bids will be accepted for replacing the roof all at once or in sections, in case the bids to replace the entire roof are excessive.

The new roof will have a 40-year warranty, meeting or exceeding the remaining lifespan of the school building, Chief of Operations Mike Tolbert indicated.

There is almost $750,000 in the schools’ maintenance budget that could be used for the roof replacement, but Onley made it clear it’s “not a surplus.” There are many smaller projects the money could fund, but a “conscience decision” was made to apply the funds to one large project, she said.

School board member Gary Reese said Accomack supervisors must be made aware that “we’re having to cut other things to be able to fix this one project,” and “we can’t continue to do this year after year and just hope that we have money left over to get our big projects in.”

The school board unanimously approved putting the Pungoteague Elementary roof project out to bid.

Director of Secondary Education Karen Taylor announced that students no longer have to be age 16 or older to participate in the dual enrollment program between Accomack schools and Eastern Shore Community College.

Additionally, AP courses, including those offered online through Virtual Virginia, will be offered to sophomores as well as juniors and seniors, provided each student has at least a 3.5 GPA (grade point average) and has submitted an Early College Scholars Agreement.

A student who lacks the GPA required to take AP classes may still enroll if the student submits letters of recommendation from two teachers.

The board also passed a school calendar for next year that Holland said is nearly identical to this year’s calendar.