Public hearing held on Clarke spending plan

Posted: February 11, 2014

The Winchester Star

Superintendent Mike Murphy

BERRYVILLE — Clarke County School Board members Monday further discussed Superintendent Mike Murphy’s proposed $28 million budget, which includes funding for eight new positions and a potential compensation increase for staff.

Last week, Murphy presented his fiscal year 2015 budget, which includes a school operating fund of $22 million — up from the current $20.6 million. He will seek $12.3 million in local money for the operating fund — an increase of $1.39 million over last year.

On Monday, the board held a public hearing on the budget at D.G. Cooley Elementary School, during which two people spoke.

Physical education instructional assistant Amy Lowell, who teaches at D.G. Cooley, made another plea to the board for a pay increase for the division’s three or four teaching instructional assistants — from a $17,000 salary to $20,000. Instructional assistants, like Lowell, do not have a teacher’s certification.

Andy Kiser, president of the Clarke County Education Association, also expressed disappointment about the more than $20,000 decrease in funding allotted for instructional materials in the libraries since fiscal year 2013.

“Instructional materials are books,” he said, adding that the library would like to provide a “robust collection” of literature from encyclopedias to e-books.

“Every penny is ... critical and needed to keep Clarke County Public Schools a quality public school system,” he said.

The budget calls for eight new positions at a cost of $271,544: two safety and security officers, four custodians at D.G. Cooley (when it transitions to the former high school), a central office receptionist and a heating, ventilation and air conditioning mechanic.

When member Beth Leffel asked why they needed to hire four custodians, officials said the current staff was already “stretched and shifted.”

“Our custodians now are cleaning much more than what industry standard is,” said Assistant Superintendent Rick Catlett.

By repurposing funds with money already in the budget, Murphy proposed hiring another counselor for Johnson-Williams Middle School, a counselor at Boyce Elementary School and a substance-abuse counselor for the high school.

Catlett said the proposed hiring of the high school counselor is driven by the results of a youth behavior survey that asked students about their risk behaviors.

“The responsibility falls to the school,” he said, about addressing these issues.

The division will also hire a consultant at a cost of $35,000 to do a salary-compensation survey to see how a potential $300,000 should be divvied up among staff. The consultant would determine which positions would receive raises and which ones would not. It’s something the division has never tried before.

“It’s bringing similar positions closer and closer together in terms of compensation,” said Financial Director Tom Judge.

The budget, which is scheduled to be adopted Feb. 24, includes a $563,257 expenditure for retirement and health insurance rate increases.

Present at the meeting were Chairwoman Janet Creager Alger, Vice-Chairwoman Barbara Lee and members Chuyen Kochinsky, Beth Leffel and Chip Schutte.

— Contact Rebecca Layne at rlayne@winchesterstar.com