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Smyth schools float $60M budget plan

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Smyth County Schools is looking at an increase of about $5.5 million in next year’s budget, up from $54,455,787 to a proposed $59,940,121.

Of course, the proposed budget for Fiscal Year 23 will no doubt change once the state budget is adopted. When that will take place remains up in the air.

Superintendent Dennis Carter and the Smyth County School Board are anxiously awaiting a state budget that will tell them how much money the schools are getting from the state next year. But because the county needs a proposed school budget to include in its 2022-23 budget, a draft had to be approved. Localities are required to have their budgets in place by July 1.

On Monday, the school board approved going with the Virginia House of Delegates proposed state budget, which would provide the Smyth County Schools with about $39,492,795, the least amount of the three proposed state budgets – Governor $42,810,407 and Senate $43,650,289.

Carter said the board could go with the least amount to be provided and hope for more in order to prepare a draft for the county.

“We don’t have a state budget yet, so we are moving toward the approval process knowing we will probably have to go back and adjust,” he said.

Estimates for additional revenue are $9,239,797 local, $6,144,533 federal, $5,135,955 state sales tax and $2,737,929 other.

Thursday evening, Carter presented the budget proposal to the Smyth County Board of Supervisors, noting the complexity of the year and that, at this point, the school system remains unfunded by the state.

He referred to education as the county’s “biggest investment in economic development.”

The supervisors acknowledged that the final budget will likely change. They set a public hearing on the school systems’ budget for Thursday, May 12, at 5 p.m. or shortly after.

The proposed school board budget for FY 23 is based on an estimated 3,845 students, down from 3,857 this year.

The loss of students directly impacts the school system’s operational funds.

While the schools are funded by local, state and federal dollars, the state is responsible for the greatest percentage – or just over 68% of the system’s budget proposed at nearly $60 million for the coming year. The state allocates money for school systems using a formula that focuses on the Average Daily Membership.

Over the last two decades the county school system has experienced a steady loss of students. When students returned to the classroom last year following a drop in local COVID-19 numbers, some remained in the virtual academy set up for those in the region whose parents wished for them not return to in-person instruction.

Since the 2002-03 school year, Smyth County has only seen a bump up in the number of enrolled students three times. The other years have been marked by enrollment losses ranging from as few as 20 students to as many as 125.

In 2002-03, the school system’s Average Daily Membership was 5,033 students. The first year of the pandemic (2020-21) was the first time the numbers have dropped below 4,000.

The school system has 671 full-time and 40 part-time employees, 202 teachers and administrators with a Master’s Degree and 464 participating in the Local Choice Insurance Program

Next year’s budget includes an improved teacher salary scale with an increase to $12 per hour minimum salary beginning July 1 addressing wage improvement needs for bus drivers, custodians and nurses and a 5% increase for all other scales.

The teacher salary scale has 28 steps with proposed salary levels for the coming year ranging from $38,500 (Bachelor’s) and $41,219 (Master’s) for zero years of experience to $64,500 (Bachelor’s) and $67,219 (Master’s) with 28 years of experience. Other compensation is set for teachers on a 200-day contract with various levels of education and training.

The salary scale for administrators also has 28 steps (years) with four levels of experience including Level 1 (high school principals) with zero years of experience at $76,015 to 28 years of experience at $104,552. Stipends for a 260-day contract are planned at $750 for middle school assistant principal and $1,500 for high school assistant principal.

Bus drivers would make from $17.91 per hour for zero years of experience to $24.77 for 27 or more years of experience. The school system is always in need of bus drivers.

The age of the bus fleet ranges from 2000 to 2023 with 56 route buses (most with two routes per day), 3,201 miles driven each day transporting approximately 2,030 students each day.

All students will again be served breakfast and lunch free of charge through the Community Eligibility Program. The schools operate 12 cafeterias serving about 1,521 breakfasts and 2,273 lunches daily.

Ages of the system’s 14 schools range from Marion Middle School built in 1937 and renovated in 2000 to Oak Point Elementary built in 2012-13. Most were built in the 1950s and 1960s with renovations in recent decades except for Sugar Grove Elementary built in 1938 and renovated in 1951. Marion Senior High was built in 1960, Rich Valley Elementary in 1962 and Smyth Career and Technical Center in 1969 and none have been renovated.

Stephanie Porter-Nichols contributed to this story.

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