School Board reviews 2020-21 budget and calendars

By Debbie Adams

Members of the Roanoke County School Board focused on the upcoming 2020-2021 school year at their meeting and budget work session on February 27. The budget process has been underway for months. Finance Director Susan Peterson presented a detailed summary of what has been proposed thus far, dependent upon the final budgets passed by legislators in the Virginia General Assembly (due by March 7) and the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors.

A final vote on approval of the Roanoke County school budget for 2020-21 by School Board members is set for March 26.

The board recognized February as Career and Technical Education Month with a proclamation from Governor Ralph Northam. It was noted that approximately 4700 RCPS students are impacted each year in the middle and high schools and at the Burton Center for Arts and Technology by CTE programs. Chairman Don Butzer noted that Roanoke County Schools are far ahead of the curve in the region as far as development of CTE programs is concerned.

Dr. Rhonda Stegall, Executive Director of Administration, briefed the school board on calendars for 2020-21 and 2021-22. The first day for students this next school year will be August 13. Schools will be closed for Winter Break from December 21 through January 4 (Monday, January 4, will be a teacher workday); classes will resume on January 5. Spring Break is scheduled for March 29 through April 2. The last student day for the 2020-21 school year will be May 25.

Changes for 2020-21 include adding two additional three-hour early dismissals for teacher planning and professional development and changing all two-hour early dismissals to three-hour dismissals for consistency. The teacher planning days will be scheduled on Wednesdays.

Stegall also shared the results from a parent/staff survey concerning future school calendars. Nine hundred thirty-five staff members and 3443 parents responded to the survey which posed such questions as whether those responding would favor permanently setting the last week of March as Spring Break week no matter when Easter falls in a particular year. Sixty-five percent of parents and 74 percent of staff were in favor of the change. There was discussion of the desirability of matching up Spring Breaks with neighboring school systems.

Forty-nine percent of parents and 58 percent of staff were in favor of having the entire day off on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving Break, not just an early dismissal. The absentee rate on the Wednesday Thanksgiving early dismissal day in 2019 was much higher than for other early dismissal days.

Board members stated that they were to meet with staff and other agencies throughout the community to discuss the coronavirus and its potential effect on the schools.

The work session was devoted to budget issues—the fourth during this budget season. Peterson covered health insurance benefits, compensation and student enrollment updates, state and Roanoke County revenue updates, Superintendent Dr. Ken Nicely’s list of items, the remaining timeline, and the A-STEP Alternative Education Program.

Staff is recommending compensation which covers a VRS increase, a one-step raise, and a .50 percent scale shift for teachers. Peterson emphasized that this is dependent upon the actions of the General Assembly as they finalize their budget. The House, Senate, and the Governor all have different compensation options which will have to be negotiated.

There was a protracted discussion of student enrollment and how that is determined as relates to the budget. Current enrollment in grades K-12 as of January 31, 2020, is listed at 13,594 students. Enrollment is expected to decline in coming years.

Butzer sees a discrepancy in the budget formula using the ADM (average daily membership) which does not account for some 300 students served in the schools above what the ADM indicates.

During the work session, Dr. Stegall described specifics of the RCPS “A-STEP” Alternative Education program which is currently being piloted and will be formally in place when school opens in the fall. Alternative education programs provide at-risk students with alternative settings to enhance academic success.

The program will be located in a specially designed classroom at Central Office. It will run five days a week with a morning session from 9 a.m. until noon and an afternoon session from 1 a.m. until 4 p.m.

One licensed full-time teacher and one full-time instructional assistant will be hired for the program. Dr. Stegall and Mike Riley, Executive Director of Secondary Instruction, will serve as administration when needed.

Life Counselors at each of the schools will be on a rotating schedule to provide individual and group counseling for the alternative program. The group counseling sessions will be planned out at the start of the year to cover topics to support students as their goal is to transition back to their homeschools with the skills they need to be successful.

The program will consist of a hybrid of online core content and homebased elective support.

The approximate cost of the program is estimated at $60,348 to serve a total of 16 students. Alternative education students had been previously placed at HopeTree Academy for several years until costs became prohibitive with a recent increase of 61 percent. Staff visited alternative programs in other school divisions when developing the one for RCPS.

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