School Board rejects superintendent’s budget

By Ruthann Carr, correspondent

It’s back to the drawing board for school Superintendent Chuck Winkler.

For the first time in at least 10 years, the Fluvanna County School Board rejected a superintendent’s proposed budget.

“It has passed even with a little opposition or amendments for the last 10 years,” Winkler said Thursday (Feb. 14).

In a 3-2 vote Wednesday (Feb. 13), the School Board rejected the nearly $42.7 million fiscal year 2020 (FY20) budget presented by Winkler.

Voting against was Chair Perrie Johnson (Fork Union), Charles Rittenhouse (Cunningham) and Andrew Pullen (Columbia).

This means Winkler will not present the budget to the Board of Supervisors on Feb. 20 as planned.

Winkler’s budget included asking the county for $18.7 million, which was almost $1.3 million more than allocated to the schools in FY19.

When Winkler first presented the budget on Feb. 6, Johnson said she wanted changes to the compensation package he outlined. She made it clear she wanted teachers to receive step increases earlier in their career.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Johnson said she didn’t have an issue with the amount of funding requested, but rather the distribution of the money.

Winkler proposed giving staff raises and step increases guaranteeing a minimum raise of 3 percent.

Johnson wants the raises to be closer to the 5 percent proposed in the governor’s budget.

Before the vote, Rittenhouse cited the effect the budget would have on taxpayers. “Looking at this budget…the taxpayers can’t afford this and I don’t see the Board of Supervisors approving this,” he said.

Brenda Pace (Palmyra) said she understood Rittenhouse’s point. “I agree,” she said. “But the flip side is to bring [in] more people and tax revenue, we have to have good schools to attract them.”

Pullen said he wanted the School Board and Board of Supervisors to work on shared goals.

“I’m not seeing real leadership or a real vision from either board,” he said. “There are solutions. We talk about them…but until we can have more of a combined vision from both boards, I don’t know how the taxpayers can do it.”

Pullen’s other concern was the cyclical history of budgets.

He said they have a tendency to creep higher and higher until a “group of extreme people come in and cut, cut, cut. I’m just looking for more consistency in the vision.”

Winkler said, “We have a wonderful, trusting relationship with the Board [of Supervisors]. All they can do is say no.”

Shirley Stewart (Rivanna) voted along with Pace to accept Winkler’s budget, but the nays won.

In other business, Winkler said he, Johnson and Stewart drove to Middlesex County to see the solar panels built for them by SunTribe.

A discussion followed. Pullen asked Winkler to find out what the cost of decommissioning the panels would be and what would happen if a tornado hit.

Winkler said he thought it was a good deal to lock in a rate with SunTribe of 8.4 cents given Dominion’s current cost is 10 cents per kilowatt.

“I believe we can save money,” Winkler said. “I’d like to enter into a contract with them soon. I’m trying to strike while the iron is hot.”

The School Board approved a new budget Monday (Feb. 18) and will present it to the Board of Supervisors Wednesday (Feb. 20).

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