Wise school officials waiting on General Assembly before continuing budget process

Mike Still • Feb 12, 2020 at 10:30 PM

WISE — The Wise County School Board is taking a wait-and-see position on General Assembly action on school funding bills.

Board members agreed at Tuesday’s regular meeting to delay its March budget workshop and regular meeting from March 10 to March 17 as school divisions across the state await firmer information on the General Assembly’s budget plans for the 2020-22 biennium.

Superintendent Greg Mullins said the legislature’s crossover day Tuesday for each house to consider the other’s passed bills means a few more weeks of uncertainty about state funding levels for the next budget year.

“There seems to be a greater commitment to students,” Mullins said of budget proposals by Gov. Ralph Northam and associated bills under consideration, “but I’m concerned about a little backpedaling.”

Funding for more school counselors in school divisions depends on whether a proposal holding that funding until the 2021-22 budget year or a bill funding counselor positions in each of the next two years passes, Mullins said.

Mullins said he was hopeful about passage of Northam’s call for $140.4 million in funding for school systems’ at-risk students.

Wise County Education Association President Paul Clark, in a presentation before Mullins’ review of budget matters, said he was concerned that the Southwest Virginia legislative delegation did not support proposed legislation for collective bargaining by teachers and public employees.

Clark credited the board with working in prior budgets to improve teacher pay. Mullins said that, if the General Assembly did approve collective bargaining authority, he was not sure whether local school boards or boards of supervisors would be in charge of handing collective bargaining issues.

The board also agreed to move its April meeting from April 14 — during the system’s spring break — to April 7 at 6 p.m.

In other business, school division Technology Superintendent Scott Kiser said the board can expect to see an approximately 50% savings in internet and wide-area network service for the central office and 13 county schools.

Kiser said three bids were received for a three-year contract to maintain and upgrade the division’s internet and network system, and two of those bids would upgrade connectivity from an approximately 1 gigabyte rate to 10 gigabytes.

The data increase benefit was highlighted last fall, Kiser said, when the school system saw a slowdown in internet service for a three-day period. He said the board could expect a recommendation on the bids at the March 17 meeting after they are evaluated.

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