Schools may run out of utility money by March

Schools may run out of utility money by March

Promised energy savings fail to materialize

By Heather Michon, correspondent

Fluvanna County Public Schools Superintendent Chuck Winker began his presentation to the Fluvanna Board of Supervisors on the fiscal year 2020 (FY20) budget with an apology.

Earlier this year, he had asked the board for $150,000 to fix the roof at Carysbrook Elementary with a promise to replace the money with funds due from the state by the end of the year. But in the summer, he said, the state abruptly told schools across Virginia that they would not be receiving that money.

Between that surprise announcement and higher-than-expected utility expenditures, Winker had $275,000 less than he had projected.

While both County Administrator Steve Nichols and the supervisors assured him they understood what had happened and it was clearly not his fault, his failure to make good on his promise clearly weighed on Winker’s conscience. “My word is my bond,” he said several times.

Looking ahead to FY20, Winkler said he and Brenda Gilliam, executive director for curriculum and finance, were assessing their need for more staff and instructional technology for the county’s nearly 3,500 students.

They expect the high school to reach a record 1,500 enrollments in 2019. When the new facility opened, they had 1,250 students. The high school population is increasing more quickly than the elementary and middle schools, in part because many local private schools only go to eighth grade.

Right now, Fluvanna spends $10,500 per student, below the state average of $12,000.

Each new teacher costs an average of $65,000, with the state picking up about $50,000 and the county funding the remaining $15,000 in salary and benefits. Winkler is considering asking for six new staff positions, mainly for the high school.

Some other items that may be on his final budget proposal are $80,000 for increased mental health support staff, $70,000 for a dedicated homebound teacher, and money to increase the daily pay rate for substitute teachers and nurses.

One big item of concern for Winkler is the cost of heating, cooling, and lighting school buildings. “Folks, I got utility bills,” he said.

Earlier this year, the schools were outfitted with new, more efficient Trane environmental control systems, with the promise of major savings in utility costs. So far, the savings have not materialized.

Winker projected a savings of $142,000. Actual savings have been only $67,000. He’s concerned he’s going to run out of money budgeted for utilities in March, well before the end of FY19.

The good news, as Nichols pointed out, that in the summer of 2019, Trane will begin auditing the system and will pay the difference between expected and actual savings.

Increased costs predicted

Finance Director Eric Dahl gave a brief overview of the draft Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) and some of the items that will need funding in FY20.

One major item is the expected rise in the county’s health insurance rates. The final figures won’t be in until the county meets with insurers early in 2019, but Dahl said they might want to set aside $300,000 to $500,000 to cover a potential increase.

Several departments have put in requests for increased staffing and positions, including the sheriff’s office, the library, social services, and public works.

Nichols is also looking at modest pay increases for people who serve on county boards. Most haven’t seen a pay raise since 2014.

The budgeting process will go on well into the new year, with both the schools and county departments presenting more formal requests sometime in February.


Joe Shaver, a local coordinator with One Virginia 2021, gave a presentation on the organization’s work to reform the state’s redistricting laws.

Virginia, like many states, put control of drawing the electoral map in the hands of whichever party controls the legislature at the time. Some say this system results in voting districts drawn to all but guarantee the party in power will maintain a majority in that district.

“It’s an abuse that’s been carried out by Republicans and Democrats,” Shaver said. He described the practice as “a democracy-killer,” adding that it leads to voter apathy when they sense that the outcome of a local or statewide race is predetermined.

He asked the supervisors to consider passing a resolution in support of redistricting reform.

Project support

Chip Boyles from the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) gave a presentation on some potential projects the commission could assist the county in carrying out.

Boyles said TJPDC could help the county win a community block grant for the Fork Union business district revitalization plan, which would help cover the cost of upgrading storefronts and signage and improve infrastructure and walkability.

Boyles was most enthused by the proposed Joint Small Area Zion Crossroads Plan, in which Fluvanna and Louisa would work together to look at the long-term needs that will arise as the Zion Crossroads area continues to expand.

Deer hunt

Supervisors renewed their annual approval for a deer hunt at Pleasant Grove. Wheelin’ Sportsmen, a nonprofit that holds hunting events all over the area for wheelchair-bound hunters, wants to hold its annual cull of the Pleasant Grove herd Jan. 4. The event has been held every winter since 2013 at Pleasant Grove.

JABA appointment

In one of the more humorous events of the night, the supervisors approved Linda Bernick to a position with the JABA Advisory Council – a seat previously held by Linda Bernick.

Her term expired at the end of April and she didn’t seek reappointment. But in the interim, she’s changed her mind. The supervisors noted that it’s not every day they appoint someone to be their own replacement.

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