Increasing compensation for employees and security were two main focal points when Halifax County School Board approved their $76,946,463 fiscal year 2022-2023 budget Monday evening.

The budget was approved following a work session at a 6 to 1 vote with ED-6 trustee Lacey Shotwell casting the sole dissenting vote and vice chairman Roy Keith Lloyd was absent.

“I think there needs to be additional information to approve a budget. Without a director of finance I don’t think we have all the details needed to approve a budget,” Shotwell said Tuesday in explaining her vote.

Prior to approving the budget, interim superintendent Valdivia Hall and interim director of secondary education Dr. Scott Worner provided details of the budget.

Included in the budget is $3,390,026 to fund a 5% salary increases for teachers and other standards of quality (SOQ) funded positions.

The board also agreed to give all non-teaching contract employees a 3% raise totaling $1,853,201.

Also included in the compensation package is $7,127,568 to cover a 10.5%, or $679,944, increase to their employee’s health insurance.

For security, the school board included $180,000 for a school resource officer.

“There are no changes in the overall total budget amount. What you see tonight still reflects what we showed you last month,” interim superintendent Valdivia Hall told the board prior to approval of the budget.

She also noted that since the General Assembly has yet to approve the state’s budget that they may have to amend the budget following their special session Monday.

The interim superintendent also noted that while the total amount of the budget hadn’t changed, they did make a “few changes in line items,” some under the direction of the Virginia Department of Education.

The budget is broken down into expenditures for instruction, a category for administration, attendance and health, pupil transportation, an operations and maintenance services category, school food services, facilities, federal, technology and CARES.

Since reviewing the budget in February, finance staff had pulled $599,551 from the instruction line item to cover the increase in health insurance and school resource officer. Hall also explained that $304,531 of those funds was moved to the technology line for digital programs.

Interim director of secondary instruction Scott Worner also informed the board that $53,000 of that $599,531 went to pupil transportation to cover an expected increase in fuel costs.

“We did a calculation based on what we think will be the escalation cost of percentages for next year,” said Worner.

Following their comments, ED-2 trustee Jay Camp made a motion to accept the budget as presented, which was seconded by ED-8 trustee Walter Potts.

Prior to voting on the approval of the budget, ED-3 trustee Melissa Hicks asked about their capital improvement plan.

The board approved their capital improvement plan in March that shows $1,272,500 scheduled maintenance items for fiscal year 2022-2023.

“Is that accounted for in this budget and if so, where is that,” Hicks asked.

Worner explained to the board that those capital improvement funds were part of the $3.2 million in carryover funds that the board chose to use towards the increase in salaries that were approved in November.

“Right now your capital improvement plan has planned expenditures, but no funds to pay for it,” he added.

The interim director of secondary instruction also reminded the board that Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed budget includes a one-time funding for a construction grant totaling $2,604,665.

He told the board they can pull $1,272,500 from that to go towards the CIP next year or the entire $2.6 million, “if it goes unscathed during the General Assembly’s special session.”

The interim director of secondary education also noted that the board could choose to use portions of the $2.6 million towards the Halifax County High School project or construction projects for the elementary schools.

Potts commented saying, “What we’re doing is playing the shuffle game again. We just lucked out that we had this money coming in.”

Worner said that former superintendent Dr. Mark Lineburg and former interim director of finance Robert Aylor were aware of the $2.6 million construction grant in Northam’s proposed budget therefore, he surmised that’s why they felt comfortable utilizing the $3.2 million in carryover funds for compensation.

Shotwell then requested clarity on how they are continuing to fund the salary increases that were approved in November and went into effect in January and February. She also suggested they should be able to fund the increases plus the new 5% salary increases plus a step and 3% salary increases without dipping into carrying over funds due to a possible increase in state funding.

If approved, the school board should receive an additional $7,148,286 from the state, and coupled with local funds totals $8,617,523.

“Based on this budget, I don’t see why we would need to use the capital carryover fund at all… it just seems like a lot of pieces are missing,” she added.

“I wish I was better at explaining the layers. All I can show you is what I’ve been shown,” said Worner.

Worner, along with Hall and Donna Henderson of the finance department, have been working on the budget with the school board since the departure of their former interim finance director. Aylor resigned Jan. 31.

Following closed meeting discussion for personnel, the school board also voted to employ a financial consultant as needed at the discretion of the interim superintendent.

Ashley Conner is the editor for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at aconner@gazettevirginian.com

Ashley Hodge is the editor for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at ahodge@gazettevirginian.com