The Fauquier County School Board on Monday sent a $48.7 million budget request to the Board of Supervisors that is short on new programs and directs much of its new spending toward teacher pay raises, an area in which the county lags behind neighboring school districts.
"This budget has been scrubbed and scrubbed again," School Superintendent Dallas M. Johnson said as he presented an overview at a sparsely attended meeting Monday evening at the school administration offices.
The budget for the 2000-01 school year, which totals $73.2 million when combined with state and other revenues, required some last-minute adjustments after a quasi-governmental task force charged with studying teacher pay discovered that by omitting benefits, it had underestimated the cost of its recommendations by more than $1 million.
So last week, the School Board met for another marathon work session and cut more money from its budget to accommodate the task force's recommendations, which include a $1,500 increase in the starting pay for teachers and subsequent raises across the school system's 20-step pay schedule.
The projected cost of implementing the raises is now about $3.1 million, by far the biggest portion of the budget's $4.2 million in new spending.
Even after last week's trimming by the School Board, however, Johnson said that the budget request--which is 7.7 percent more than what the county Board of Supervisors allocated to the schools last year--exceeds some revenue projections for the schools by about $1.9 million.
But those revenue figures are not official, and supervisors could allocate more money to the schools, either by cutting funds for other county departments or by identifying unexpected state and federal revenue.
School Board Chairman Broni Lambelet (Marshall) said she believes that this year's request, and the process leading up to the supervisors' vote on it, will proceed more smoothly than last year, when relations between the boards broke down.
"I'd be delighted if [the supervisors] said, 'Excellent. Here's the money,' " Lambelet said in an interview after the unanimous School Board vote Monday. "But we live in a real world with real dollars. Compromise is going to be necessary. It doesn't have to be a battle."
The budget request anticipates $17.1 million from the state. Of the total budget, about 76 percent would be spent on instruction, mostly for salaries. About 8 percent would be spent on debt service, 7 percent on operations, 5 percent on transportation and 2.3 percent on administration.
Spending would decrease--both in real dollars and as a percentage of the overall budget--in all categories except instruction. That led Ray Shupp, president of the Fauquier Education Association, to proclaim himself "delighted" with the vote.
Shupp served on the compensation task force that compared Fauquier with eight neighboring school districts and found that it ranked eighth and ninth in various salary categories. The task force also found that Fauquier had begun losing teachers to higher-paying places, such as Loudoun, that are scrambling to hire new teachers because of rapid population growth.
In related news, Del. Jay Katzen (R-Fauquier) said he learned this week that his efforts to restore money lost to local schools because of an administrative mistake were unsuccessful.
An undercount in the triennial school census taken over the summer means the schools will lose an estimated $1.1 million in sales tax revenue from the state over the next three years. The undercount occurred because private school students were not counted as they should have been.
Katzen said he had hoped that the Virginia Department of Education would accept new information correcting the omission. But, he said, state officials, citing precedent, said they could not accept census information outside of the spring and summer time frame when it is gathered.
CAPTION: "This budget has been scrubbed and scrubbed again," Superintendent Dallas M. Johnson said Monday of the $48.7 million request.