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W-JCC schools holding public hearing on proposed budget

Anyone with an interest in Williamsburg-James City County schools proposed $132.6 million budget can have their say at a Tuesday night public hearing.

First presented in February, Superintendent Olwen Herron's fiscal year 2017-18 budget requests $5 million more in funding than last year.

Immediately following the public hearing, which starts at 6:30 p.m., the school board will discuss the proposed budget. The planned expansion of the Pathways program to Jamestown and Lafayette high school has already been delayed and more cuts could come Tuesday night.

Herron and Chief Financial Officer Christina Berta detailed the budget in a Feb. 21 presentation to the board.

"I know we're going to have some difficult decisions … because there is a finite amount of money, tax-payer's dollars as it were, and we have a real fiscal responsibility to try to get as much out of each buck as we can," Jim Beers (JCC Roberts) said Feb. 21.

Going into Tuesday night's discussion, that's what the board is going to try to do.

From the State

Some good news came out of the Virginia General Assembly session late last month, Berta said. State lawmakers passed a budget that includes funding for divisions that averaged a 2 percent increase in teacher pay over fiscal year 2016-17 and planned for fiscal year 2017-18.

"We gave a pretty significant raise last year so we're already in a good place," Berta said. "We would be able to accept the state funding, which could play out to be $350,000 and $450,000 for W-JCC."

The increases had to average 2 percent for all standards of quality-funded positions, which make up about 40 percent of the division's staff, Berta said. Because W-JCC doesn't differentiate between standard of quality funded positions and the rest, raises are spread across all employees, Berta said.

"Any additional funding we get form the state helps us balance our needs, so that's a positive any way you look at it," Berta said. "There will be a lot of discussions that happen over the month of March to try to get the school board an approved budget."

In the budget

The 4 percent increase over last year accounts for $3 million in mandatory cost increases for the division, including a significant uptick in what the division must contribute to Virginia Retirement System totaling $1.5 million.

The rest of the increases are more negotiable, like the Pathways expansion. Some priorities the School Board identified at their January budget retreat didn't make it into the budget at all.

"I think that a lot of things that the board discussed in the retreat have been left out, and in my mind it is pretty lean," Lisa Ownby (JCC Powhatan) said. "It is not an embellished budget, all the things that are in there impact students."

Items left off include an addition of Pre-K to D.J. Montague, which would have relieved pressure from Rawls Byrd and J. Blaine Blayton elementary schools. Adding a trailer to Jamestown High School to alleviate capacity pressures and a plan to purchase extra textbooks were not included.

One item kept in the plan — exceeding $1.1 million — are salary increases for teachers and staff. Teachers would get their step increase, determined by their pay scale, and everyone else would see a 1.5 percent bump.

A plan to buy laptops was kept in the budget, totaling about $380,000. Additions of staff members including English as a second language and special education teachers and the James Blair Middle School Principal, add up to $1.1 million.

Keeping the Pathways program on hold will save the division roughly $200,000.

"I'm not coming into Tuesday's meeting with predefined ideas about what should or should not be altered in supers proposed budget," School Board Chairwoman Kyra Cook (Williamsburg) said. "It's a time to listen to each other and get consensus."

Cook said she hopes people will show up and speak during the public hearing.

"It's very important to our work to hear from citizens and teachers and parents."

Williams can be reached by phone at 757-345-2341.

Want to go?

Budget public hearing: 6:30 p.m. March 7, Room 300 in the Annex at the School Board and Central Office, 117 Ironbound Road.

School Board work session: Immediately following public hearing, Room 300 in the Annex at the School Board and Central Office, 117 Ironbound Road.

The School Board will meet again March 21 to discuss and possibly vote on the budget. If it is not approved at that meeting, the board will meet again March 28.

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