School Board – minus two – discusses budget

By Ruthann Carr

The Fluvanna School Board held its first budget seminar for Fiscal Year 2023 Wednesday (Oct. 20) at 8 a.m. and its first with new Superintendent Peter Gretz.

Two Board members, Andrew Pullen (Columbia) and Charles Rittenhouse (Cunningham) who are running for re-election, did not attend. The pair joined other conservative candidates at the Turkeysag Shopping Center for a “Coffee with the Candidates” event from 8-9 a.m.

On a video posted on the conservative candidate for School Board in the Rivanna District’s Facebook page, Pullen and Rittenhouse put out a plea for votes.

One theme touched upon in the video is a promise to make sure parents are included in educational decisions and not people “who don’t even know where Fluvanna is.”

Meanwhile Chair Perrie Johnson (Fork Union), Shirley Stewart (Rivanna) and James Kelley (Palmyra) consulted with Gretz on budget priorities.

Gretz shared highlights of a survey he conducted asking parents, staff and the community about educational spending concerns

Of the 125 respondents, 74 were parents, 70 staff, three community members and one student.

Out of 25 cost saving measures suggested, some were:

  • Sustainable garden for cafeteria;
  • Combine health insurance with the county;
  • Reduce funding for athletics; cancel football;
  • Ask retired military personnel to volunteer in schools;
  • Offer professional development virtually.

The survey also asked for suggestions on new program or spending ideas. Respondents came up with 53 recommendations, including:

  • Free lunch and breakfast;
  • Lower student/teacher ratio;
  • Better buses;
  • More hands-on learning, less testing and homework;
  • More mental health and instructional support positions.

Johnson wanted to find ways to equalize planning time for teachers. She said there seemed to be more time scheduled for those teaching upper grades than elementary. Johnson also suggested making a focus on students who aren’t college bound by helping them with interview skills and other classes geared to finding a job.

Kelley said he wanted to discuss paying staff better.

Stewart said she wanted to focus on building a budget for the future with a focus on schools doing what they should for students.

Gretz said he will keep the survey up on the school website and to work through issues that are “global and come up often.”

Executive Director for Instruction and Finance Brenda Gilliam shared the most recent funding figures from 2020. Out of 11 central Virginia counties and Charlottesville, Fluvanna is second to last in per pupil funding at $11,185 per student. Only Orange spends less per pupil ($10,990) than Fluvanna.

The state average is $13,241.

Student enrollment for 2021-22 school year was projected to be 3,415. However, it hasn’t reached that and is likely to settle around 3,271, Gilliam said.

The state promised not to cut funding for enrollment decreases this year.

Gilliam said in every gubernatorial election year, there are more unknowns than is typical regarding the budget.

Governor Ralph Northam will present his budget before the year is out. But there will be a new governor sworn in and he will present a budget. Also, the General Assembly will change, so that adds another wrinkle in the system.

Gretz said the good thing is state revenue has gone up steadily over the years.

“The forecast in Virginia is fantastic. Something like $4.6 billion in increased revenue,” Gretz said. “It grew by 15 percent due largely to non-withholding income revenue.”

He said there is talk of using much of that revenue toward education: teacher compensation and making Pre-Kindergarten more accessible to poor students.

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