By KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
TAZEWELL, Va. —
School officials in Tazewell County are facing a $3.26 million budget shortfall.
The county Board of Supervisors voted 2-0 Tuesday to approve approximately $13.7 million in county funds for the school system’s 2013-2014 budget — $3.26 million less than school officials requested. The measure also allows the school system to keep any funds from last year’s budget that were not spent.
The Tazewell County School Board originally asked for approximately $16.97 million in local funds from the county.
Board chairman John Absher and Northern District member Tom Childress voted to approve the budget while vice chairman Mike Hymes, Northwestern District board member Seth White and Eastern District supervisor Charles Stacy abstained from voting.
Hymes said he abstained from the vote because he felt more funding should have been awarded to county schools.
“There was a quite lengthy discussion regarding school funding and our need to provide the school board with funding to provide a base pay increase to the employee,” Hymes said. “It has been several years since school employees have seen a pay increase. I did not vote in favor of the motion because I think we should provide additional funding to the school board to help meet their pressing needs. I am hopeful our board can find additional funds before our final budget vote in late June.”
Hymes said the current budget is $623,248 over what was granted to the school system last year and the board of supervisors has increased funding to the school board by $2 million during the past two years. Hymes said the supervisors intend to recommend some cost-saving measures to the school board.
“In a related discussion, our board thinks the school system should begin to purchase compressed natural gas buses,” Hymes said. “We see this as a positive economic development project given our county exports natural gas daily. We need to support our local economy by switching our fleet from gas and diesel to natural gas where practical.”
Eastern District supervisor Charles Stacy said it is also his hope more funds can be found for school expenditures.
“The school board numbers were only an agreement to meet at the minimum what we are required to give to get the state money, but the final number isn’t determined yet,” Stacy said. “The school board was asking for increases to address pay raises, health insurance increases, new buses and others. We aren’t done yet so I look for the numbers to change again.”
Northwestern District supervisor Seth White said he did not feel comfortable with the motion or changes to the amount of funding recommended by the board of supervisor’s budget committee.
“This first vote that we always take is honestly just because it is required,” White said. “We really can’t get down to the heart of the matter at first. I abstained because some of our supervisors wanted to change the amount from what our budget committee suggested, knowing full well this is not the end number we will come up with.”
White said the board of supervisors and school officials will have to work together to find a budget they can all agree on.
“I also did not like the way the motion was written,” he said. “I am very much in support of our teachers and I would like to see all of our school employees get a raise this year. I don’t want to politicize this vote because it is an important thing. We have to work together to create a budget that everyone can live with.”
Christine Kinser, assistant superintendent for Tazewell County Schools, said local school systems are feeling the pressure from state and federal budget cuts to education.
“State and federal cuts have persisted,” Kinser said. “A lot of state cuts are based on number of students. As we lose students we lose money. We also saw federal cuts to our title programs and special education programs for next year.”
Steve Davis, vice chairman of the Tazewell County School Board, said possible cuts from the school system’s budget will most likely be discussed at upcoming school board meetings.