Gretz presents school budget to supervisors

By Heather Michon

Fluvanna County School Superintendent Peter Gretz led a presentation to the Board of Supervisors at a work session Wednesday night (March 6) on their $22.3 million request for county funding in fiscal year 2025 (FY25).

This is an increase of around $340,800 over last year’s request.

“I just want to throw out at the very beginning the word ‘need,’” said Gretz. “The word need means different things to people. Do I need that in order to survive? Do I need it to comply with something?”

He stressed that this budget was based on needs far more than wants.

Gretz added that there were legal penalties for asking for more than the school system needed. “I can’t overspend this budget,” he said. “It’s a felony.”

Designing the school system’s budget is always complicated by the legislative calendar, which leaves localities in the dark about what they can expect from the state each year. 

Finance Director Brenda Gilliam said their per pupil expenditure of $15,988 was one of the lowest in the region. “We are running a lean ship,” she said.

Some of the most significant items in this year’s budget are a three percent increase in salaries, increases in pay for custodians and other support staff, an increase in the day rate for substitute teachers, and preparation for a rise in the minimum wage set to begin in 2026.

Health insurance was among the biggest line items, with a projected 10 percent rate increase. The School Board wants the funding to cover this $480,000 increase rather than passing it on to the teachers and staff.

School Board member James Kelley (Palmyra) said that some employees on the family plans would pay over $1,000 a month for insurance, a rate that would eat up many of the gains from last year’s attempts to raise salaries to competitive levels.

Board of Supervisors Chair Chris Fairchild (Cunningham) seemed cool to the idea of fully funding that increase. 

“So many of the citizens that we’re charged with determining how much is going to come out of their pockets are making the same or less and are also suffering the insurance woes as that goes up,” he said. “And we’re going to say to them, ‘you’re going to pay more out of your pocket to fund their entire increase? I’m talking about citizens in Fluvanna County earning $30,000 a year and I’m going to dip into their pocket?”

Supervisors asked several questions about staffing, including the number of classroom aides. Schools now have 90 such positions. 

Supervisor Tim Hodge (Palmyra) commented that the number of children with Individualized Education Programs (IEP) seemed high at 1 in 6 students. IEPs are designed to help students with educational disabilities, and Gretz said he actually expected the number to go up in coming years.

Fairchild asked why there were 75 more staff positions when the student population had dropped by 400 since 2016.

For Gretz and Gilliam, these questions all had similar answers: modern schools offer more to students than in previous decades, and they’re working with children who seem to need more educational and emotional support overall. Teachers and staff are expected to have higher levels of education and need compensation packages that match.

No decisions were made during the conversation, which lasted about two and a half hours. 

Supervisors now have a few weeks to review the information presented by the schools and decide how much they are comfortable funding. The final number will be included in the total county budget, which will be voted on in mid-April.

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