Budget talks


Keller said savings calculated by closing Cunningham and Columbia elementary schools is $1.19 million.

“I believe our budget request is reasonable,” Keller said.

This was just the opening salvo in budget negotiations. The School Board won’t vote on an actual budget until March 6 and Keller will present that to supervisors March 20.

In County Administrator Steve Nichols’ budget that he presented to the Board two weeks ago, he slotted $13.2 million for the schools. That is one million more than what the schools agreed to start budget negotiations at after receiving an additional $300,000 from supervisors in November.

Nichols budget was based on a tax rate of 79 cents per $100 of assessed value. The current tax rate is 59.81 cents. Recent property reassessments showed property values decreased. Virginia law requires the tax rate must go up to balance the lower values so county revenues remain the same.

There was some discussion between supervisors and the school board, mostly regarding how to plan for a new elementary that everyone feels will be needed in three to five years.

Board Chairman Shaun Kenney (Columbia) said getting water to Zion Crossroads could bring in needed development and increased tax revenue, but also more housing and more school children. The hypothetical new grade school might need to be built closer to that northern end of the county.

Supervisor Bob Ullenbruch (Palmyra) wondered if new revenue would balance out the cost of a new school.

“We can have these discussions but they’re going to cost money,” Ullenbruch said.

Kenney said past Boards haven’t always planned ahead.

“Fluvanna has a bad habit of having five to seven people standing around looking at a problem and saying, ‘Yep, that’s a problem,’” Kenney said. “Once we see the fruits of economic development, we need to then have the disciplined conversation about where to put that money.”

Keller agreed.

“I work better working proactive rather than reactive,” she said.

In an earlier meeting, Supervisor Don Weaver asked about teacher to student ratios. Keller produced the information for kindergarten through third grade.

This year teacher/pupil ratio for kindergarten is 18.6 students per teacher; first is 21.5 students; second is 20.7 and third is 24.2.

Standards of Quality call for not more than 25 students per teacher in those grades.

Bill Sullivan, who is connected to the Focus on Fluvanna’s Future group that sprang up from last years school budget cuts made by the Board of Supervisors, spoke during public comment after the school’s presentation.

He said he was dismayed there wasn’t more discussion about Keller’s proposal.

“It’s a chance for the public to see in which direction our leaders are leaning,” Sullivan said.

Kenney said this was the first time the Board had seen Keller’s numbers and the real discussion begins once she presents a budget to the Board.




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