During a joint board meeting Wednesday, the two entities agreed to set up a series of work sessions aimed at improving the local budget process and identifying a sustainable funding model for the schools.
“We’re interested in ways in which we can work on our relationship and projects going forward this summer, particularly because, and this is an observation from a new board member, we found the budget process to be very hard this year,” Supervisor Jane Dittmar said. “It’s time for us to look at what we can do better or differently.”
Nineteen-year School Board veteran Steve Koleszar said this budget cycle — which saw the school division slash nearly $4 million from its spending plan despite a real estate tax hike of 3.3 cents per $100 of assessed value — was the toughest he’s ever seen while serving.
Four new supervisors and one new School Board member, Koleszar said, were thrust into the angst the more experienced elected officials already were feeling.
First-term School Board member Kate Acuff agreed.
“I know that I’ve been having a learning curve, and I know that some on the Board of Supervisors are new to the process, as well,” Acuff said.
“One of the things for me that made it more difficult was what a surprise the budget needs of the schools were,” first-term Supervisor Liz Palmer said.
School Board member Eric Strucko suggested a process change.
“The superintendent creates a budget and submits it to the School Board,” Strucko said. “We work on it, but we don’t know what our revenue allocation is, we don’t know what the tax rate is.”
“If, perhaps, a process change gave us more confidence in the revenue number, perhaps that would shape the original budget,” Strucko added.
While the two boards did not set a future agenda, improving communication and fostering a year-round working relationship will be discussed.
“Unfortunately, right now we’re only working together over our budget cycle for a very short period of time, but we have to figure out how to make it more of a relationship and a discussion throughout the year,” Supervisor and former School Board member Diantha McKeel said.
Acuff said she’d like to see the talks address what worked and didn’t work about the budget process, as well as the allotment of funds.
“Do we need a fresh look at how we finance our county and school activities?” Acuff asked.
School Board Chairman Ned Gallaway, who was unable to attend, prepared a statement, which Acuff read aloud. In the statement, Gallaway called for an independent group of “community stakeholders to help us find alternative means to increase our revenues and to enhance our operational efficiency.”
“I believe many in our community stand in the ready to assist us in this work,” Gallaway wrote.
Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said the first action should be to identify what worked in the budget process.
“Postponing that or putting some facilitator in charge of that will be a big mistake,” Mallek said.
Both Dittmar and Koleszar called for teambuilding.
“It’s also important … to show our citizens that elected people can work together,” Dittmar said.
“Just by meeting together we’re going to build that trust,” Koleszar said. “We’ve always worked well with the Board of Supervisors, and so it’s important for that relationship.”