Floyd County heads into a potentially tense and defining week as a seemingly-unavoidable annual confrontation between the School Board and Supervisors escalates over a budget that has brought talk of teacher layoffs and school closings from the superintendent.
School boss Dr. Kevin Harris laid out a gloomy future in a recent email to school teachers and other employees — one that he says is inevitable if the system does not get the bulk of a fiscal 2014 budget request that adds $2.2 million to a county budget that supervisors say is already stretched to the limit.
At the moment, the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 is far from final. In work sessions, supervisors look right now at a funding level for the schools that is about the same as the current year and talk at the last work session about moving $105,000 — including $85,000 for a football field irrigation system — out of the current budget triggered a strong response from Harris.
Level funding, Harris says, really means a $1 million reduction in the school budget because carryovers last year amounted to almost that amount and those funds are no longer available and increases in insurance costs push the shortfall even higher.
“Cuts that total over one million dollars will have a devastating effect on our school system,” Harris said in his email to school employees.
Among those “effects,” Harris said, is:
- “Reduction of salaries by reducing contract days.”
- “Elimination of non-SOQ positions.”
- “Elimination of other teach positions.”
- “Closing schools.”
- “Reducing or eliminating extracurricular activities.”
In other words, firing teachers, closing Indian Valley elementary school and elimination of sports programs like football, basketball and curtailment of other activities.
The threat of closing Indian Valley is a strategic move designed to force support of a tax increase out of a board that is normally reluctant to impose extra levees a county where many family are strapped for cash.
Indian Valley Supervisor Fred Gerald is both a strong proponent for keeping the elementary school open but also prides himself in a record that has never cast a “yes” vote on a tax increase.
Supervisors have to make a decision on whether or not to increase taxes no later than April 18 so County Treasurer Missy Keith can prepare tax bills. If the board decided not to raise taxes, that decision is binding and cannot be changed for the upcoming fiscal year.
Speakers at a “media event” school board meeting at the county high school last week supported a tax increase to give the schools the money they want but those who oppose additional taxes are expected to appear at upcoming public comment sections of supervisor meetings. Recent speakers at Supervisors meetings have questioned the salary of teachers, which they say is already higher than the county’s income average and one speaker noted that many school teachers and administrators live outside the county, saying they take money from the county and spend it elsewhere.
Supporters of the school system dismiss both arguments, noting that Floyd County’s teacher salaries rank among the lowest in Virginia and say that is doesn’t matter where a teacher or administrator lives as long as they teach and have a positive effect on county students.
The battle heads into the next round Tuesday at the first April meeting of the Board of Supervisors. The meeting starts at 8:30 a.m. and the public comment period is at 9 a.m.
The debate over the school budget threatens to overshadow proposed cuts in other county departments, including the possible elimination of the Sheriff’s Department employee retention fund and a need for additional cruisers.
Some say what is becoming an annual — and very public — debate over the school system budget is a culture clash in Floyd County.
Others call it a battle of egos.
Most, however, agree that — in the end — the losers of such battles are usually the children who attend the county’s public schools.