With an additional $500,000 in local money, the Nelson County School Board was able to bring its approaching budget in line and unanimously approved during its June 18 meeting.

Additional reductions the board adopted gave Nelson County Public Schools a surplus of $7,000 for fiscal year 2021, which begins July 1.

School officials said they were grateful for the extra $500,000 from the Nelson County Board of Supervisors to cover some of the deficit the division faced, but Superintendent Martha Eagle said to board members cuts still would need to be made to bring the budget in line.

“Just keep a reality here that although that money was there it still does not meet everything we need, although I’m very appreciative,” Eagle said.

Assistant Superintendent Shannon Irvin said even with the additional money, the division still was facing a deficit of almost $186,000. As a result, school officials proposed additional cuts in order to bring the budget to balance.

Those reductions come in the form of one teacher position per building, as well as harvesting the savings from a lack of summer activity bus runs and having a dean of students at the high school rather than an assistant principal.

Irvin said the available teacher positions are the result of vacancies from retirements or resignations.

Pay raises also weren’t included in next fiscal year. School officials initially proposed a budget to the Nelson County Board of Supervisors including pay increases, which was later removed.

Eagle noted several needed positions still are on hold not only out of budgetary needs but because of the unknown nature of next school year.

In total, the division’s expected shortfall for fiscal year 2021 was about $678,000.

With the suggested cuts, enough money was freed up to allow for the addition of the behavioral specialist back into the budget for next fiscal year.

Division officials thought it necessary to include the position, saying its need is more important than ever as students return to an abnormal school year.

“Due to the needs that we think our students are going to have coming back to the pandemic for emotional support that we added in the behavior specialist,” Irvin said.

The behavioral specialist position has been a wish-list item for the school board the past several years. Initially included in an earlier version of the budget, it was removed early on as a cost-saving measure.

The version of the budget approved by board members also includes the part-time driver’s education position, as well as bringing the agriculture teacher position at the middle school back to a 12-month contract, rather than 11 months.

During budget deliberations, Eagle said the school year may not require the position to be 12 months long, a position South District representative Ceasar Perkins said.

“We need to save where we can. We’re not going to be able to do anything in the month of July anyways,” Perkins said.

East District representative George Cheape and West District representative Shannon Powell voiced support for the program to return to a 12-month contract.

Chairwoman Janet Turner-Giles urged the board to be realistic with their needs for next year. Board members acknowledged transportation and other costs could heavily increase next year as the division tackles how to bring students back to school.

Jim Saunders, co-owner of Saunders Brothers Farm Market, said he was pleased with the support from the board to make the position a 12-month contract.

“The program needs 12 months leadership and I really appreciate what the board saw tonight as an opportunity to continue the [Agriculture] program …” Saunders said.

He and Ed McCann, a retired agriculture teacher and Future Farmers of America advisor at Nelson County High School, said the middle school teacher position lays the foundation for future agriculturalists “for not only Nelson County, but for the surrounding counties, Virginia and our nation.”

In terms of capital improvement projects for next fiscal year, Eagle explained currently no money is allocated for future projects. Rather than approve a separate budget for CIPs next year, board members instead approved a plan proposed by school officials prioritizing needed projects.

Reach Cropper at (434) 385-5522.

Nick Cropper covers Nelson County. Reach him at (434) 385-5522.

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