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Hanover schools budget proposal prioritizes staffing, wages

Dr. Gill during a meeting
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Dr. Michael Gill, superintendent of Hanover County Public Schools, listens during a board meeting on Tuesday, May 9 in Ashland.

State, federal funding numbers present a challenge.

The Hanover County School Board recently received a first look at its proposed Fiscal Year 2025 budget. Superintendent Michael Gill said the county’s focus is on offering higher pay to faculty and improving students' learning environment.

Overall, the school district’s operating fund is expected to increase around 4.8% from $233 million to $245 million starting July 1. The county’s capital improvement plan would increase that amount to about $332 million.

Like most Virginia localities, Hanover benefited from federal stimulus funding distributed during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, in September, funds provided through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief program are expected to run out.

Gill said the school district will have to find solutions to continue some of its initiatives — like employing additional teaching aides and substitutes — when federal funding is no longer available.

“We also are very cognizant of the fact that we don't want to have a fiscal cliff,” Gill told the board earlier this week. “There are a few things that we put in during the pandemic that I'm going to outline that we feel are vital to maintain after the stimulus dollars are gone.”

FY 2025 is also the first year of the state’s two-year budget, proposed by Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin in December. Although education funding is set to receive a boost, revisions to the state’s education funding formula could result in Hanover receiving less in state funding.

In his remarks, Gill referred to the Local Composite Index. The LCI examines a school division's ability to pay education costs and is determined through numerous factors, including a district’s enrollment, population, real estate value, residential income and retail sales.

Hanover’s LCI has increased for the fifth consecutive biennium, which means the state will likely require the county to pay a higher portion of the school division’s budget.

“While our needs have increased, the dollars from the state have decreased,” Gill said. “So, with that as the backdrop … there is, in fact, a silver lining.”

Gill said the county is prepared to meet the growing needs of its students — despite funding challenges — and hopes to work with Hanover supervisors and County Administrator John Budesky to fulfill its priorities.

"We look forward to working with schools and our respective boards this spring to engage with our citizens and adopt a budget that supports our collective priorities for the fiscal year beginning July,” Budesky wrote in a statement.

Among the superintendent's top priorities were staffing levels and wages. The initial budget proposal calls for a 3% salary increase for qualified employees with the goal to provide a 4% increase, if the state budget results in more favorable funding.

“Right now, in the current budget, the dollars are simply not there,” Gill said. “If the General Assembly's final budget is more favorable for K-to-12 education as a whole, the priority of the county administrator, as well as ours, would be to increase that from 3% to 4%.”

Additionally, the superintendent's proposed budget includes funding to offset the increasing health care premiums for faculty and targeted salary enhancements for teachers, custodians and food service staff with at least 25 years of experience.

Gill also outlined plans to increase starting wages for the division’s transportation staff from $18.77 to $23 in hopes of remaining a competitive employer among area school divisions, while also cutting into the county's growing bus driver vacancies.

The school division hopes to increase staff size with 15 additional special education instructional assistants, 10 additional special education teachers and two additional English as a second language instructors.

Gill said there are also opportunities to discuss continuing positions initially funded by stimulus money, as well as prioritizing the renovation of the county’s aging school buildings.

Residents will have a chance to comment on the school division’s proposed spending plan during the board’s first public budget hearing on Feb. 6.

Lyndon German covers Henrico and Hanover counties for VPM News.