Spotsylvania School Board Approves Budget

Board members will present the $480 million budget for fiscal year 2025 to the Board of Supervisors later this month. Also, the Board holds a closed session.

By Adele Uphaus

The Spotsylvania School Board on Monday approved a $480.4 million budget for fiscal year 2025, which begins July 1.

The bulk of that amount—$418.3 million—is earmarked for the operating fund, which pays for the day-to-day running of the school division.

The budget as a whole is $37 million more than the budget for the current fiscal year, and there is a $46.8 million gap between proposed revenues and expenditures, which would need to be filled by increased local funding from the county Board of Supervisors.

The School Board’s approved budget includes $2.1 million to implement a 2% salary increase for staff; $3.8 million to cover increased utility expenses; $1.9 million for the increased cost of “materials, supplies and equipment”; and funding for three new school social workers, ten new reading specialists, seven new school counselors, five new school psychologists, ten new English language (EL) teachers and eight new EL paraeducators, and three new gifted education teachers, among other investments.

The budget increases support for special education services by including $1.8 million to provide “differential pay” to special education teachers; converting outside contracted special education paraeducator positions to in-house positions; and funding nine new autism paraeducator positions, two new autism specialists, 11 new special education classroom teachers, and seven special education diagnosticians.

School Board members approved the budget by a vote of 6-to-1, with Berkeley district representative April Gillespie voting against it.

Gillespie said she wouldn’t support the budget because of the size of the gap. She said Spotsylvania residents, some of whom live in “rinky dink shacks,” can’t afford to pay more in taxes to fund the division’s increased budget.

“You’re asking them to choose whether they can feed their children and put a roof over their heads or have their children have a better education,” Gillespie said. “You’re asking for the people who don’t have anything, who are depending on assistance, to pay you more taxes so you can get better education.”

She said the school division is more likely to be funded if School Board members “listen to the supervisors” and cut the budget, but she did not identify anything that she would like to see cut.

Board member Megan Jackson, the Livingston district representative, responded to Gillespie’s comments by saying, “We are not the ones responsible for raising taxes.”

She said the amount of the gap is the result of years of supervisors underfunding education in the county.

“It is our job to present a needs-based budget,” Jackson said. “Nobody wants to go to the Board of Supervisors with a $46 million gap, but that’s what we’re facing. We’re going to present this budget and work together after that.”

Vice Chair and Battlefield District representative Nicole Cole said the School Board and supervisors had “a very productive initial meeting on Friday.”

“If we don’t make sure that we put forward a budget … that actually shows what our needs are, then the Board of Supervisors will never know what it means to actually properly fund us,” Cole said.

Board members Belen Rodas, Chancellor District, and Carol Medawar, Courtland District, had similar thoughts about the budget.

Rodas said she believes the budget presents the division’s needs “honestly and straightforwardly” and that she trusts supervisors to “meet us with the same spirit.”

“I don’t believe that a ‘needs-based budget’ means the absolute minimum needed to keep kids alive, but rather what we need in order to provide them with the education that they deserve,” she said.

Medawar said she believes county residents sent a strong message in support of public education at the voting booth in November.

“What I know is that this community spoke with a very large voice in the fall and said, ‘We support our schools,’ and they sent us here to do exactly what this budget does,” she said.

The School Board will present the FY25 budget to the Board of Supervisors on February 20.

Closed Session

Also on Monday, the Board held a closed meeting “for consultation with legal counsel” as permitted by Virginia Code, and after re-entering open session, it voted to “authorize the (School Board attorneys) to proceed in the negotiations regarding the personnel matter discussed in closed session.”

Gillespie and Lee Hill District representative Lisa Phelps abstained from this vote because they chose not to attend that portion of the closed session.

Phelps said she did not attend the closed session because she “does not want to participate in lawsuits.”

Managing Editor and Correspondent