Superintendent Doug Straley shared with school board members his vision for the upcoming year and the major points of a budget forecast that is $2.5 million more than the current fiscal year.
Straley broke the budget down into four segments while explaining what he anticipates is needed for the next school year and beyond to help achieve the division’s goal of making sure Louisa’s students can compete with anyone in the world in the job market.
Operational expenses, which the superintendent described as “required and unavoidable” costs, resulted in a budget increase over the current year of $2.07 million.
Items included in this category include rising health insurance costs, retirement system rate increases, additional fuel costs, the cost of hiring an additional school mechanic at the bus garage earlier this year and supplies for programs.
Funding to increase the pay for non-teaching staff, based upon the results of a recent salary study, are part of this category, as is a step increase for teachers to maintain their salary scale levels.
“The frustrating parts are those unavoidable required costs and, certainly, I want to try to use our dollars the best way we can within our school division and within our community to make sure we’re providing a top quality education for every kid,” Straley said in an interview. “We’re looking to try to do things within the budget that are going to focus on our vision of making sure we are pushing every kid every day to reach their maximum potential across the board.”
As part of Straley’s first phase of the “moving ahead vision” plan, he hopes to hire two additional talented and gifted teachers for the elementary schools. The division already has two TAG teachers who divide their time between all four elementary schools, but parents have asked that each school have its own.
Additional positions Straley hopes will gain approval are two instructional assistants to handle science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) labs and three instructional assistants for a pilot reading academy at Trevilians Elementary School.
“One of the things we really want to do over time is, instead of going all in at the schools, is pilot things … see how this would work, and work through the issues at one school to see if it makes a difference before expanding it out to all the schools,” Straley said. “If it’s a real difference-maker, then it’s worth the increase. It’s important that we take these calculated risks … to see if, indeed, is this going to make us better, and look to move forward.”
Trevilians was chosen for the reading pilot program largely because it is the smallest school in the division, and could use additional reading assistance in kindergarten through second grade, based on test scores.
Thinking forward to 2018, Straley told school board members that he would like to include $110,000 to fund a world language pilot program and hire two additional STEAM instructional assistants, all at the elementary school level.
“I think that’s going to be a really important thing for our kids. In our society today, if you just know English, it limits you so much to your job opportunities,” Straley said. “So, we can expose them early and they can get an understanding of what they want to do with it.”
Chairman Greg Strickland (Patrick Henry district member) praised Straley’s ability to put together a budget that directly links the numbers with achievable goals.
“I think we have a very good school system. As we’re moving to the future, we need to make sure we prepare our kids for jobs in the future,” Straley said.
The school board met for a budget work session on Jan. 17 and will revisit the matter at the Feb. 7 school board meeting.