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Roanoke City School Board Seeks to Stay On Budget

by Valerie Garner

School Board Chairman David Carson said that contrary to the expected downturn in the number of students attending Roanoke City Schools, just the opposite is true. The first thing they would do to prevent overcrowding would be to adjust the attendance boundaries. “We need to stay on top of it,” he said.   “The highest priority is the eventual sale of Huff Lane to add a gym and expand Round Hill,” said Carson. “Every dollar will go to Round Hill.” Vice Mayor Dave Trinkle asked Carson to be proactive and transparent if the attendance zones needed to be adjusted. “Nothing was done years ago in adjusting attendance zones,” Carson said.

 Councilwoman Anita Price was concerned about class size. Carson said that, “The student to teacher ratio has increased far less than at surrounding districts.”

Councilman Court Rosen asked Carson how he felt about getting through the next fiscal year without the 2-cent meals tax. Carson said that they were in “reasonably good shape but spending down savings.” He complained about Roanoke not getting the assistance needed from the state. “In the absence of that occurring it would benefit us to reduce spending,” he said. Rosen asked the school board to look ahead and share financial information and keep dialogue going to head off any sense of urgency.   This year students will start two weeks earlier and finish two weeks earlier and all exams will be taken before Christmas. Carson lamented over the failure of the bill that would have school boards set start dates across the board. “Our hope and expectation was to move forward with the same calendar,” said Carson.

Councilman Sherman Lea said that while campaigning that it was evident that the community “doesn’t understand how the state plays a part.” Lea asked Carson to help explain that to citizens. Carson said, “The school board unanimously passed a resolution to fully fund education for three years in a row and asked [legislators] to quit sticking mandates on us that you are not paying for.”

 School board member Lori Vaught said that the legislative conference lobbies legislators even outside the district. Bestpitch said you have citizens concerned about taxes and want the state to cut them. “There are a lot of citizens not thinking that through,” he said. “We need to do a much better job of explaining.”

 Councilman Ray Ferris asked if Carson’s predicted economic outlook was any different than the city’s. Carson said their fund balance would prevent teacher cutbacks and give teachers a one-percent raise. “We are not spending excess but spending down savings,” said Carson.

Richmond’s increase to school funding for the city is due to the increase in the student population. The increase is dwarfed by the increased costs associated with required contributions to the Virginia Retirement System (VRS). The result is that “we are receiving less money net,” said Carson.

Curt Baker, deputy superintendent said, “It is clear VRS is going to be the wild card if it keeps increasing.” The draw-down comes to $4 million this year and is a third of our total fund balance, he said.

Finance Director Ann Shawver said, “We are not out of the woods yet with the possible lack of growth in real estate.” Employment is still recovering and with high fuel cost the city might need to draw on its fund balance.

 Baker said with the governor’s amendments they “still don’t know what the budget is … all bets are off in the 2014 – 2015 school year.” Trinkle said that he hoped that the new formula would be a win/win and that their fund balance would continue. “I’m not a big fan of dedicated taxes,” he said. “We don’t tell you how to spend.”

Carson said that at the beginning of the year the state announced implementation of a new math SOL. “School systems across the state are concerned about how this was rolled out.” Assistant Superintendent Vella Wright said that teachers are working very diligently and are testing now. “Teachers are stepping up,” she said.

Mayor Bowers was concerned about the impact that the lack of teacher’s aides had on the teachers. Carson said that parent volunteers are taking up the slack and urged more parents to volunteer. He said that they have not been able to write contracts with teachers because of the VRS schedule.

Later at the council meeting incumbent school board members Mae Huff, Todd Putney and Dick Willis were reappointed for additional three-year terms that will begin in July.

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