IW School Board adopts 2022-23 budget

Published 3:10 pm Friday, March 11, 2022

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Candice Phelps’ name, and to clarify Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton had initially proposed a decrease in local funding before recommending the school resource officers and testing coordinators be added.

Isle of Wight County’s School Board voted unanimously on March 10 to adopt a $79.3 million budget for the 2022-23 school year.

Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton had initially proposed a budget of $78.2 million on Feb. 10, which had included $26.68 million in local funds — a 0.1% decrease from the $26.71 million Isle of Wight County contributed to its school system at the start of the current school year. Thornton then recommended adding $1.1 million to fund nine school resource officers and seven testing coordinators. The new $79.3 million total amounts to a roughly 4.6% increase over the current year’s $75.8 million budget.

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The four Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Office deputies serving as SROs are presently funded as part of the Sheriff’s Office’s budget. Under an agreement Thornton and Sheriff James Clarke Jr. have proposed, Isle of Wight County Schools would take over funding the salaries, benefits, uniforms and equipment of the four officers, plus the cost of hiring five more, during the 10 months those officers would be stationed in each of the county’s nine schools. The Sheriff’s Office would cover the cost of the officers’ vehicles and the cost of salaries, benefits, uniforms and equipment during the two summer months school isn’t in session.

The testing coordinators are intended to free up the school system’s guidance counselors to spend more of their time working one-on-one with students.

A 2019 change in state law required school counselors to spend at least 80% of their time counseling students, but that isn’t a reality, Thornton contends, since they’re often tied up proctoring Virginia’s Standards of Learning exams. A 2021 change in state law added new “growth assessments” in reading and math for grades 3-8 to measure pandemic-related learning loss and will require three such tests next school year – one in the fall, one mid-year and one in the spring.

As budgeted, Carrollton and Hardy elementary schools would share a testing coordinator, as would Windsor and Carrsville elementary schools. The remaining five schools would each have their own coordinator.

Prior to the vote, four school counselors spoke during the meeting’s public comment period in support of hiring the seven testing coordinators. Candice Phelps, a counselor at Smithfield High School, told the board she’s currently responsible for 450 students – nearly double the 250-student-per-counselor ratio recommended by the Virginia Board of Education and the American School Counseling Association.

The adopted budget anticipates the school system receiving more than $7 million in additional state funding based on an estimated 5,568 students and a provision in Virginia’s proposed budget that would give teachers an annual 5% raise, for a cumulative 10.25% over the 2022-24 biennium.

Isle of Wight’s proposed raise is slightly higher than the mandatory minimum, at 6.6%.

According to Steve Kepnes, the school system’s executive director of budget and finance, the state budget former Gov. Ralph Northam proposed in December called for Isle of Wight to receive roughly $40.1 million in state funding. The state Senate’s version of the budget calls for Isle of Wight to receive $800,000 more while the House of Delegates’ version calls for $50,000 less. The House version, he said, includes less than a 5% raise for teachers.

“We don’t know where it will land,” Kepnes said.