Isle of Wight School Board votes 3-2 to adopt 2024-25 budget cuts

Published 2:18 pm Friday, June 14, 2024

Isle of Wight County teachers will get their state-mandated 3% raise starting July 1, but not the roughly 1%-2% additional increase they’d ordinarily receive annually under the school division’s 35-step pay scale.

The step freeze is among a series of 2024-25 budget cuts the School Board approved in a 3-2 vote at its June 13 meeting aimed at staying within Isle of Wight County Schools’ lower-than-requested funding allocation from county supervisors. School Board member Brandi Perkins and Vice Chairman Mark Wooster cast the dissenting votes.

The supervisors voted in May to allocate just under $33 million to the school system, a $2.7 million, or 8%, increase over the $30.4 million they approved last year but below the $5 million increase for annual operating costs the School Board requested in March.

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“We’re going to operate fiscally and we’re going to do the best we can with what we got,” School Board Chairman Jason Maresh said, adding he and his fellow board members had initially “asked for the sky.”

The School Board’s final budget totals $97.2 million, down $4.7 million from the $102 million the board had approved in March. It includes an additional $9.5 million transfer from the supervisors for one-time capital expenses.


What got cut?

Last year, IWCS offered a $1,000 referral bonus to any staff member who recruits a new classroom teacher and $4,000 sign-on bonuses to any teacher hired in June, conditioned on their remaining an IWCS employee for the entire 2023-24 school year. The budget cuts include $215,300 that had been earmarked to continue the incentives for 2024-25.

Also cut was a planned $735,000 annual purchase of five school buses. Another five buses remain budgeted within the $9.5 million for one-time expenses. IWCS Superintendent Theo Cramer had initially requested 20 new buses, citing that roughly a third of the division’s buses had reached or were approaching the 15-year lifespan and/or 300,000-mile threshold when it’s customary to begin looking at replacements.

The board reduced its proposed 16.5 new positions to 10, cutting an additional $459,534 in operating funds. The board also cut $161,475 for “teacher coverage,” which pays stipends to teachers who use their planning periods to cover an absent teacher’s class.

Wooster, prior to casting his “no” vote, objected to cutting the stipends, noting state law requires a planning period of 45 to 90 minutes depending on the length of a typical class block. 

“If we’re not going to pay teachers to do this, then we need to figure out some other way to benefit teachers where they are not being hit regularly to cover additional blocks,” Wooster said.


What’s still funded?

The 10 new employees include two reading specialists School Board Chairman Jason Maresh said are required for IWCS to meet its staffing obligations under the Virginia Literacy Act, which mandates every kindergartner through eighth-grader who tests below literacy benchmarks receives “evidence-based supplemental instruction and intervention.” The law requires one reading per 1,100 in grades 6-8. One specialist will be assigned to Smithfield Middle School and the other to Georgie D. Tyler Middle School.

The new hires also include three special education teachers and three instructional assistants to meet Virginia Department of Education-mandated staffing ratios at Westside Elementary, Smithfield Middle and Smithfield High School.

An accountant in the division’s central office and a new patient care technician account for the remaining two new hires. According to Maresh, had the division not hired the patient care technician teacher, IWCS would have had to return $90,000 in grant funds given to start the new career and technical education high school program.

“I do have a big problem adding another position to central office. … I believe there are other places in the school system that this could be utilized better,” said Perkins, who objected to the funding of an accountant prior to voting against the budget.

A May 8 email from Maresh to the supervisors had contended the lower-than-asked local funding could result in a reduction in the number of slots available for IWCS students to attend the Governor’s School for the Arts and Governor’s School for Science and Technology, as well as impacts to the Southeastern Cooperative Education Programs or SECEP, a regional organization serving students with special needs from Isle of Wight, Suffolk, Franklin, Southampton Chesapeake, Portsmouth and Norfolk public schools. However, Maresh confirmed following the board’s June 13 vote that these remain funded at the same number of slots despite cost increases.

The majority of the $9.5 million for one-time expenses will fund the replacement of Carrollton Elementary’s heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system, which is estimated to cost upwards of $7 million. The funds will also pay for repairs to the tracks at Smithfield High and Windsor High, athletic field repairs and weapon detection systems at the middle and high schools. Those, along with the five buses, “are our top priorities,” Maresh said.