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County school budget will be topic at Feb. 7 joint meeting

The Westmoreland County School Board and Board of Supervisors will conduct a joint work session at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 7 to explore financial considerations associated with development of the upcoming fiscal year’s county school division budget. The meeting will be held at the Gerald B. Roane Center for Excellence at 171 Opal Lane in Montross.

The Westmoreland School Board met this Monday and reviewed draft budget considerations associated with the 12-month fiscal period that begins this July 1. The preferred proposal could

result in a real estate tax increase of approximately eight cents.

Division Superintendent Rebecca Lowry delivered three budget alternatives when the School Board met this Monday. Salaries could be increased across the board by either one or two percent with no step adjustments reflected in the mix or salaries would remain flat with step adjustments updated to reflect seniority of tenured division employees.

According to School Board Chairman Daniel Wallace, seven years have passed since step adjustments were updated to reflect teacher seniority and long-time employees are unhappy that their level of compensation does not appropriately reflect actual experience. In order to retain experienced teachers, step adjustments would provide financial rewards for time served in the county school division. The Board directed Superintendent Lowry to proceed with preparations of a budget that will implement the step adjustments rewarding staff according to the duration of service in the county school division.

The Board additionally instructed Lowry to develop a proposal that includes two additional special education teachers, two elementary school assistant principals, another central office finance clerk, an arts teacher at the middle school, one gifted education resource teacher and three other optional positions. State and federal grants would be expected to fund some of those positions and the cost of the additional employees would be approximately $500,000. The budget proposal reflecting step adjustments for the school division’s teachers had a $19 million bottom line. The additional employees, school bus purchases and other suggested improvements would push the projected expenditures total closer to $20,000,000 in fiscal year 2012-2013.
Composite index values prepared by the state tax office reflect falling real estate values and declining personal incomes in Westmoreland County. The index values are used to establish a jurisdiction’s ability to support its public school division. The minimum local payment Westmoreland must make to its school division will subsequently be lower in 2012-2013.
The proposal reflecting the teachers’ step adjustments without the half million dollar dost of additional employees reflects a $1,338,081 increase in local funding. One cent on the county’s school district tax rate generates $200,156.00 in revenue.

Excluding additional employee positions, the local contribution would rise from the current operating budget’s $8,112,578 to $9,450,659. If projected student population numbers are correct, the state contribution would increase from the current $5,909,102 to 6,230,381, but federal assistance would drop from the current year’s $1,883,158.33 to $1,316,199 in 2012-2013. Federal funding associated with the Economic Recovery Act of 2009 will no longer be available in 2012-2013.

Betsy Ficklin

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