WILLIAMSBURG -- WJC Schools superintendent Steven Constantino on Tuesday proposed a fiscal 2016 school budget that would give employees a pay raise of about 2.5 percent and add about 16 full-time positions spread across the school buildings.
The total proposed budget is $124,355,859, which represents a 2.4 percent increase, or about $2.9 million, over the current year's budget.
To get there, Constantino told the School Board, he looked for ways to make cuts in the existing operating budget to make room for the places where funding would inevitably have to increase. This, he said, was accomplished by looking for efficiencies, finding savings through employee attrition and cutting electricity and fuel budgets by a quarter of a million dollars. It's also accomplished by making upcoming changes to the employee health insurance plans and by getting a break from the state on the Virginia Retirement System employer contribution rate. Constantino said these areas yielded savings of about $2.35 million.
"Even though our budget situation in fiscal 2015 was not as severe as the few years before it, we by no means have cleared our financial obstacles ...," Constantino said. "As has been our goal in the past with this budget, our aim is to strike a balance between available resources and continued support of important division programs. Our focus is on students, quality workforce and the goal of establishing our strategic plan."
Constantino's plan for employee increases would equate to about a 2.5 percent pay increase, amounting to $1.99 million. The plan calls for nine more classroom teachers to be hired to keep up with enrollment, at a cost of about $675,000. Other staffing changes would include hiring another English as a Second Language teacher, adding a special education preschool teacher, restoring a bus dispatcher position that was eliminated a few years ago, hiring four part-time custodians and hiring two teachers to allow staff to receive special training in a program aimed at helping special education students improve their reading skills.
The proposed capital improvement plan (CIP) for 2016 includes about $25.8 million for the construction of a fourth middle school. It also highlights a pair of projects that Marcellus Snipes, senior director for operations, said can't wait any longer: Replacing the roof at James River Elementary ($641,000) and refurbishments and security upgrades at Clara Byrd Baker Elementary ($1.65 million).
The school bus replacement plan, which sees about nine school buses replaced every year as buses in the current fleet age out or reach mileage limits, would be continued in the proposed CIP. But the division's planned technology refresh, with a price tag of about $705,000, would be moved into the operating budget rather than the capital budget because Constantino said he was being mindful of the bigger picture of school funding.
"I’ve believed that the right thing to do was be as conservative as possible ... in working with our funding partners to figure out a way to move forward without breaking the bank," he said.
After the meeting, School Board Chair Jim Kelly said it appears so far that Constantino has worked well within the financial constraints.
"I think if you look at our school board priorities, he has tried to fit as many of those in as he can and maintain the servcies that we provide to our kids," Kelly said. "That's obviously on first blush. We have to spend some time making sure we understand."
A joint meeting of the School Board, James City Board of Supervisors and Williamsburg City Council is scheduled for March 11 at 1 p.m. at Legacy Hall in New Town, and a public hearing on the budget is scheduled for March 17 prior to the board's next regular meeting. The School Board is required to adopt a budget to send to the county and city by April 1.
Sampson can be reached at 757-345-2345.