By SHANNON WATKINS
(Editor’s Note: When first posted, this story inaccurately identified Pulaski County School Board Vice Chairman Jeff Bain, who represents the county’s Massie District, as Fred Bain. The story has been corrected to reflect Mr. Bain’s real name, with our apologies for the mistake.)
Teachers in the Pulaski County school system hoping for salary increases may be stuck waiting longer for them, according to information given at Thursday night’s school board budget meeting.
Pulaski County School Board Chairman Mike Barbour announced to a visibly disappointed school board that the Board of Supervisors appears to have approved only $662,500 of the school board’s new proposed budget of $2,315,726, about 29 percent of the full amount requested.
“To put it bluntly, the county has failed us miserably in what we’ve done,” said School Board Vice-Chairman Jeff Bain later in the evening.
“I’ve received comments over the last few weeks,” Barbour said. “I don’t know if they’re sometimes made in anger or disgust, sometimes congratulatory in nature, but they’re saying, ‘Well, looks like you’re getting a lot of money with this new tax increase,’” he said, in reference to the Board of Supervisors passing a 5 cent real estate tax increase recently. “The irony is that we are actually going to be receiving $208,000 less from the county than proposed by Mr. Huber (Pete Huber, Pulaski County Administrator) with a zero percent tax increase.”
Board member Linda Hill said, “I think one of the most disappointing things was when we did have the joint meeting (with the Board of Supervisors) and they actually asked us at one point about our needs, and that they would be raising taxes to help us. And from what Mr. Barbour said, we get zero, actually less than zero, of any of the new tax money.”
“It looks like most if not all of the districts in the New River Valley are voting for a 2 percent (teachers’) raise,” said Barbour.
Hill said, “Except us.”
Barbour also noted that while the Board of Supervisors had initially agreed to accept the school board’s request, within the new proposed budget, of $150,000 for school security cameras, in the last two weeks it reversed this decision, cutting out $100,000 and applying it toward the purchases of new buses.
Barbour asked Director of Technology Tim Barnes, who was also present, “What is the cost of the cameras the county is planning to install in the sheriff’s office here on (Route) 99? What is the cost for that one building?”
Barnes said that the expected cost was approximately $60,000, and to further questioning said that the libraries would be getting cameras as well for about $10,000.
“We’re primarily looking at cameras in the children’s reading rooms in case there’s any suspicious adults hanging around,” he advised.
In regard to the cameras for the sheriff’s office, Barbour murmured, “I won’t say it.”
“I’ll say it,” replied Bain. “It’s a hell of a lot more important that they have cameras in the jail than we have security in our schools. Is that sufficient enough?”
“Well, I dread that day that it hits home,” said school board member Frances Viars. “The day that something happens in one of our schools.”
Barbour said that now other reductions would have to be made in school systems budget on the heels of about $435,000 in reductions the school board committed to make before submitting the new budget proposal to the board of supervisors.
The base funding of $12,281,439 is unchanged, but the additional amount was to fund security cameras for schools, a school resource officer at each middle school, lower employee health insurance premiums, add new employees eligible for insurance under the Affordable Care Act, raise the teacher salary scale between 21 and 30 years of experience and the local share of a 2 percent salary increase offered by the state.
“Well, we have spent 8 budget workshop meetings, untold hundreds if not thousands of man-hours, putting together and working though this budget this year,” Bain noted. “My recommendation would be that this be the last year that we go through this budget process, that we just say, basically, next year, this was last year’s budget, we need a 2 percent, a 4 percent increase, we pass that and send it over, and whatever increase we get, it’ll be miniscule I’m sure, we’ll just take the time and work it.
“And that way,” he concluded, “the tens of thousands of man-hours that have been spent up to this point can be applied to the education of our children in this county. This has been a zero-sum game for us. It’s produced nothing.”
Board member Linda Hill noted of the time spent on the budget, “The hours Jeff mentioned, we do appreciate them. All of them.”