School board approves budget

By Ruthann Carr

The Fluvanna County School Board approved a $44,347,268 budget on Wednesday (Feb. 10) by a 3-2 vote.

Chair Perrie Johnson (Fork Union), Vice Chair Shirley Stewart (Rivanna) and James Kelley (Palmyra) voted for the budget. Andrew Pullen (Columbia) and Charles Rittenhouse (Cunningham) voted against.

The budget approved was more than the one proposed by Superintendent Chuck Winkler because it structured steps to teacher scale B differently than Winkler’s budget.

In past discussions, Johnson lobbied for teacher pay scales to be “front-loaded,” so teachers made more at the beginning of their career. She argued studies showed doing that rewarded teachers with greater lifetime earnings.

The budget the board approved and now will present to the Board of Supervisors at 4 p.m. Feb. 14 makes initial teacher pay higher.

The budget that ultimately passed was formulated by Kelley.

“(Budget) Option Two had more (money) in the beginning (years) but less in salary in later years. I played around to see if we could keep the same initial salary increase with the same ending salary,” Kelley said. “This option does a good job in closing some of the gaps and making sure we remain competitive.”

While talking about budget options before the final vote, Pullen said comparing Fluvanna teacher pay to surrounding counties is futile.

“I think discussion about where Fluvanna is in pay versus other counties around us is a perpetual discussion. If we raise ours, they’ll raise theirs. We’re never going to be competitive with Charlottesville,” Pullen said.

Rittenhouse said he preferred the option Winkler offered.

“I want Option One. It doesn’t do a lot of good to increase wages when people leave because of high taxes,” he said.

Kelley said it’s the Board’s job to decide what’s best for the schools.

“I see my job on the board as advocating for what’s best for our system while reducing inequities and remaining competitive,” he said. “It’s the Board of Supervisors’ ultimate responsibility to decide if they can provide that money to the school system. It’s ours to advocate for what we need. It doesn’t mean the county will give it to us but it’s incumbent upon us to vigorously defend it.”

The budget asks for a $18,564,800 from the county which is $775,900 more than the county allocated for FY21.

In other business, Winkler said the solar project continues.

“We’ll be meeting with SunTribe in the next couple days to measure our savings.  It’s not as evident in the bills as we’d like it to be,” he said.

Rittenhouse said installation of solar panels seemed to be taking longer than anticipated.

Winkler said the pandemic, getting permits and cleaning some areas for panels that couldn’t be put on roofs slowed down installation.

“They’re about a year off the proposed online date for the middle school,” Winker said.

Winkler said everyone hopes the next school year will begin with in-person school five days per week.

“That may change. There will be a virtual component, the questions as to who goes full time or hybrid remain. By August we should have 89-90 percent of teachers vaccinated,” he said. “It would be presumptuous to assume we know exactly what it will look like.”

Winkler said state officials are urging people to begin talking about what next year will look like and what education will look like over the next four years or so.

The weather is affecting Internet access for some children. Winkler said the school needs to buy more hotspots to meet the need.

Don Stribling, executive director for human resources, operations and student services, showed a video the Equity Task Force made to recognize Black History month.

Plans continue for summer school.

Winkler said teachers will be paid $30/hour and instructional aides $15/hour.

Kelley said he thinks the school needs to have a comprehensive salary study that looks at every staff position. Winkler said the last one was done in 2011.

Because of the pandemic the school did not hire about 25 positions that were in the FY21 budget. That saved about a million dollars.

Talks continue on whether to use that money to pay staff bonuses this year.

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