For the second time in as many months, a budget mistake by the Fauquier County public school administration has led to grumbling among members of the newly elected School Board, who have been promising an end to such snags.
During its Monday meeting, the board learned that figures given to the quasi-official Teacher Compensation Task Force by the school administration were incorrect because they did not include benefits.
The salary portion of the budget request under consideration by the School Board had relied on findings in that report, so the mistake forced a delay, until next Monday, of the board's scheduled vote on the budget request.
Because the incorrect figures underestimated the total cost of a proposed pay hike for teachers, School Board members now must find other areas of the budget to cut if they hope to fund the pay increase and keep their overall proposal within the funding limits they have set for themselves.
The omission comes after it was disclosed last month that an undercount in last summer's triennial school census by the school administration will deprive the county of more than $1.1 million in state sales tax revenue over the next three years.
School Board member Gary A. Maloche (Cedar Run), who was vice chairman of the task force before his election, said the two mistakes--combined with the additional bad news from county budget officials that local and state tax revenue for the schools may have been overestimated by $900,000--have made the first two weeks of his time on the board "frustrating."
Maloche said the budget process so far reminded him of the old joke: "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?" He added, "We are all in the learning process, but there really is no margin for error."
The salary error disclosed Monday was discovered by a county budget officer, who informed School Superintendent Dallas M. Johnson. Johnson informed the School Board of the mistake just before a closed session for an unrelated matter during its Monday meeting. When the meeting reconvened, a citizen member of the task force made a presentation--using the old figures--showing that Fauquier County trails neighboring school districts in compensating teachers. Maloche said there wasn't time to call off the presentation.
Maloche and Supervisor Sharon Grove McCamy (R-Lee) said the task force, which includes supervisors, School Board members and representatives of business and teachers groups, had requested the benefits figures but had not been provided with them and was not aware of the omission.
"We asked quite specifically for everything, including the benefits," said McCamy, who was chairman of the task force.
Johnson said in an interview that the error was his responsibility, since staff members from departments he oversees failed to provide the complete figures.
The corrected task force presentation and the budget vote are scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday. The School Board had hoped to have its request to the supervisors this week, but the supervisors won't begin public debate of next year's budget until Feb. 7. The target date for a county budget is March 20.