School budget talks continue

By Ruthann Carr

Things got a bit tense between two School Board members during budget talks at Wednesday’s (Feb. 3) meeting.

As Superintendent Chuck Winkler laid out the different scenarios of raises, salary scale adjustments and step increases, Charles Rittenhouse (Cunningham) asked what Winkler recommended.

Winkler said he preferred giving staff a 2 percent raise with a minimum of $500 and no adjustments to salary scale. Which means if 2 percent of a person’s salary is less than $500, that person would get a $500 raise.

The total cost of that proposal is $765,400.

Rittenhouse noted that was about $1 million.

Winkler said the other option – the same 2 percent raise with a $500 minimum including salary scale increases – actually did come out to $1,040,900.

“Well, $765,400 is close enough to a million to me when you’re paying taxes,” Rittenhouse said.

James Kelley (Palmyra) said, “Can I have the change?”

The discussion continued about proposed changes to the salary scales.

Chair Perrie Johnson (Fork Union) has long lobbied for paying teachers more at the beginning of their career.

Right now, the biggest adjustments are at the end of a teacher’s career because retirement benefits are based on the last five years of a person’s career.

“For every dollar you increase in a person’s salary in the last five years, it’s a difference of 50 cents more in their retirement check,” Winkler said.

By day, Kelley is a data analyst and as is his custom, he began doing comparative analysis using different variables.

At each turn of the discussion, Kelley began calculating what that adjustment might mean for the budget in the future and to lifetime earnings.

“All things are mathematically solvable or at least comparable,” he said.

They talked about how Fluvanna salaries compare to neighboring districts.

Kelley said he’d like to make FCPS more competitive and one way to do that is to increase salaries early in a person’s career.

Kelley said Net Present Value shows how the value of a dollar decreases over the years due to inflation.

“NPV shows that one dollar today is worth about 50 cents 35 years from now,” Kelley said.

Rittenhouse took umbrage.

“How could you possibly know that, James? There is no way in the world you could possibly know that,” Rittenhouse said.

“That I could know the math behind it?”

“No, that you could know the future. You said 35 years from now? You don’t know if we’ll even be here tomorrow,” Rittenhouse said.

Kelley said “we could make reasonable assumptions about what inflation will be the future based on what’s happened in recent decades.”

Rittenhouse suggested they move on.

Kelley said he wanted to understand Rittenhouse’s objection.

“You just talk and talk and many of the things don’t have anything to do with what we’re doing – the cost of a dollar, the value of a dollar,” Rittenhouse said.

Kelley suggested if Rittenhouse didn’t know how it related to what they’re doing, he didn’t understand.

“So be it,” Rittenhouse said.

The board is still considering saving a potential $600,000 in health care costs by excluding spouses who have other access to health care from being on FCPS’ plan.

Winkler said with CARES act money, the district will make $1.3 million in improvements and only need $500,000 more from the county than last year’s budget.

FY21 budget was $18,064,800.

The FY22 proposed budget is $18,564,800.

Andrew Pullen (Columbia) asked about summer school plans.

Winkler said he proposes it will be the last two weeks of June and the first two weeks of July for four hours, five days per week.

“It will be calculated and targeted for students most in need,” he said.

Winkler suggested the bottom 10 percent of students will go to summer school.

Pullen asked about students who aren’t in that category but still have needs.

Winkler said having enough staff to meet the needs is the problem.

He wants there to be a one to five teacher-student ratio and there isn’t enough staff to bring in more students.

Winkler said every school district across the nation will face the same issue.

“It will be a multi-year process closing those gaps,” he said.

The next meeting is Feb. 10.

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