IWCS budget hearing set for March 21

Published 10:00 am Tuesday, March 19, 2024

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Isle of Wight County’s School Board has rescheduled a public hearing on its 2024-25 budget for March 21.

The called meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in the auditorium of Westside Elementary.

Isle of Wight County Schools announced the new date on March 11.  IWCS previously canceled its plans to release and hold a hearing on its draft budget on March 7 after Chief Financial Officer Larisa Harris resigned on March 1.

IWCS has hired Jim Roberts, a retired superintendent formerly of Chesapeake Public Schools, as its interim CFO to assist the division with completing next year’s budget.

According to IWCS spokeswoman Lynn Briggs, the division plans to publish its draft budget on March 15 on its website.

IWCS Superintendent Theo Cramer on Feb. 22 presented the School Board with $21 million in departmental requests for budget increases, which include a bus garage renovation, new school buses and other large one-time expenses.

The School Board last March adopted an $88.1 million budget for the current school year that included a $30 million contribution from county supervisors, who as the division’s local funding authority control the amount of local dollars the division receives.

The $30 million given last year amounts to roughly 32% of the county’s $95.5 million current-year budget. Cramer has asked supervisors to increase the portion of their budget dedicated to education to at least 35%.

The last time Isle of Wight gave its school system 35% of the county’s budget was at the start of the 2019-20 school year when county supervisors devoted $27.5 million of its then-$79 million budget to public schools.

A 35% share of next year’s county budget, assuming the $95.5 million stays flat, would amount to a roughly $3.4 million increase.

The bus garage renovation, which Cramer’s Feb. 22 presentation estimated at $750,000, would accommodate three of the division’s newer 77-passenger buses at a time without any portion of the bus having to protrude into the outdoors, as is the case currently.

The division’s transportation department had estimated $7.5 million in September to build a new eight-bay bus garage from the ground up, but had revised the estimate downward to $3.5 million as of Feb. 28.

School Board Chairman Jason Maresh and board member John Collick each stated at the Feb. 28 meeting that they would prefer to see a new building rather than a renovation to the circa-1955 bus garage.

IWCS is further proposing to purchase 20 new school buses to replace 19 that are at least 15 years old. The 20th would cover an additional route serving the new, roughly 240-unit apartment phase of the Benn’s Grant development off Benns Church Boulevard. The new buses, if purchased this year, likely wouldn’t arrive until August 2025, according to division officials.

Also on Cramer’s wishlist is up to $820,000 for resurfacing the tracks around the football fields at each high school. The largest one-time expense, at $7.3 million, calls for replacing Carrollton Elementary’s heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system.

Cramer’s budget requests call for a $5.6 million increase in personnel expenses, roughly half tied to raises connected with the division’s 35-step pay scale and the 3% annual salary increases for teachers and other school employees proposed in Virginia’s 2024-26 biennial budget bill. 

Cramer has also requested at least 24 new positions, including a grant writer, accountant and director of student services at the division’s central office.

Cramer’s requests further call for the installation of weapon detectors at middle and high schools, and vape detectors that would be placed in high school bathrooms. The devices would carry a collective cost of just over $231,000.