By Aila Boyd

The Botetourt County School Board held its final Budget Committee meeting before the upcoming public hearing last Thursday.

The meeting came one week after the School Board meeting the week before in which 21 speakers voiced support for agriculture education after the idea to reduce the number of agriculture teachers in the county from three to two was considered, in addition to the reduction of one elementary teacher and six secondary teachers in order to save $541,651.

After much back and forth, it was decided that the School Board will request $500,000 from the Board of Supervisors in order to fund the division for the 2019-2020 schoolyear.

Despite Chairman Michael Beahm and School Board member Michelle Crook stating that they want three agriculture teacher positions, not two, enrollment numbers for the 2019-2020 schoolyear only support two positions.

“We’ve got declining numbers as we’ve been told. Did that happen this year or has that been an ongoing issue? To put something out of its misery because it might be cured, I can’t quite go along with,” Beahm said.

Enrollment numbers indicate that the lack of enrollment in agriculture classes is a trend that has been going on for some time. With that in mind, Crook said that she’d like one more year of having three agriculture teacher positions in order to make sure that the trend can’t be reversed.

“Although we’re championing for it, it doesn’t mean the other Ag position is going to make it,” Crook said.

According to Mike Ketron, supervisor for Career and Technical Education and Adult Education, the number of students who enrolled in agriculture classes is enough to support 12 classes— six classes for one teacher and six classes for another teacher.

“I don’t know that our situation had an effect on enrollment for this year,” Ketron said in reference to the loss of the agriculture teacher at James River High School.

Crook noted that it’s unfair of the School Board to ask for members of the division’s administration to find funding for three agriculture positions, without presenting a way to do so. Because of that expressed desire to find a finite way forward, members of the School Board crunched numbers and discussed numerous ways to bridge the divide between the dollar amount that they will ask for and the amount that the Board of Supervisors will ultimately grant.

A third agriculture teacher position will cost $67,000 alone. However, the School Board decided to move forward with the addition of an engineering teacher position as well, costing an additional $67,000.

The desire to add the engineering position is due in part to the fact that the demand to take computer systems technology was significantly higher than what the current teaching staff could supply.

“Computer Systems Technology for the past few years has had a much higher student request level than we can support,” Ketron explained, noting that he originally requested the position.

He added that he has 112 requests for 50 seats, meaning that 62 students who signed up for the class were turned away due to space limitations. Two sections would be required to cover the number of students who signed up for it.

According to Dr. Richard Bailey, an ex officio member of the Budget Committee by way of serving on the Board of Supervisors, signaled that the county would likely be able to offer the division $400,000, although nothing has been finalized.

“I think everybody is trying to work toward the same goals,” Bailey said during the meeting.

Brandon Lee, supervisor of business and finance, noted that because the division’s budget is roughly 87 percent personnel-related expenses, there simply aren’t that many areas to cut funding from.

Swortzel suggested looking into a non-personnel budget reduction option that was made earlier on in the budget process, charging $25 per month for employee only health insurance. Despite including it in earlier suggestions, members of the division’s administration signaled that doing so would be a bad idea and would essentially be taking away the proposed salary corrections and scale increases.

Both Swortzel and Crook seemed to favor the idea of reducing CSIP (Comprehensive School Improvement Plan) funding by $160,000, funding that is given to schools in order to purchase supplies. The proposed $160,000 reduction equates to roughly one-third of all CSIP funding. After administration members stressed the importance of CSIP funding, members of the School Board said that they could eventually restore funding for it if fat could be trimmed from another part of the budget.

Ketron said that having recently served as a school administrator (he was principal of Botetourt Technical Education Center), he can confidently say that materials are critical.

School Board Member Anna Weddle, who represents the Amsterdam District, suggested reducing professional development and conference funds by $16,000, the same amount that was unused from the previous year’s budget.

It was also decided upon that the tuition reimbursement fund will be cut by $31,000. The division offers tuition reimbursement for staff members to further their education, which in turn can help the division fill positions inhouse that would otherwise be difficult to recruit for.

The idea to slash the health insurance increase estimate from 7 percent to 6 percent was decided upon by the School Board based on the fact that administration members reported that historically the estimates have been higher than what the cost actually ends up being. The drop in the estimate from 7 to 6 percent represents roughly $47,000. The next estimate is due at the end of the month. The precise percent of the increase will not be known until June.

Dr. Janet Womack, assistant superintendent, added toward the end of the meeting that the main request from the School Board to the administration is for the budget to represent a $500,000 ask from the county. She added that the administration will work toward achieving that request through use of some of the suggestions from members of the School Board and other possible options.

The School Board’s budget will be presented to the county on April 1.

Funding provided by the state for the 2019-2020 fiscal year will be $26,429,322— $922,960 more than the previous year. Federal funding will be $25,000, the same as the year before.

The proposed budget document has been posted on the division’s website for public review in anticipation of the public hearing that will take place tomorrow at the Central Academy Middle School in Fincastle at 5:30 p.m.