Although they weren’t happy about it, the Chesterfield County Public Schools board unanimously approved a $726.9 million operating fund request for Fiscal Year 2020-21...

Although they weren’t happy about it, the Chesterfield County Public Schools board unanimously approved a $726.9 million operating fund request for Fiscal Year 2020-21 during a special meeting on Feb. 25. 

The proposed financial plan was reduced from Superintendent Merv Daugherty’s initial request in January of $777.3 million. 

The $726.9 request — which would need to be approved by the county board of supervisors — reflects a $55.5 million, or 7.5-percent, increase, over the Fiscal Year 2019-20 adopted budget. 

Thomas Taylor, the school district’s deputy superintendent, said that the 2-percent increases for faculty and staff that would be allowed under the proposed budget are less than the increases of other area school districts, namely: Hanover, 2.5, Henrico, 3, Goochland, 3, Richmond, 4, and Prince George County, 5. 

Midlothian board member Kathryn Haines said 35 percent of the district’s teaching staff has left in the past five years. “We are voting yes … with the expectation that the decompression study will be completed with the goal to start the decompression of salaries ASAP,” she said, referring to an issue where teachers with a number of years of experience are paid nearly the same as new teachers. (On Feb. 19, the county board of supervisors voted to spend $100,000 to study teacher recruitment, retention and salary.)

Haines noted that the budget includes a 75-cents-an-hour raise for the district’s school bus drivers, adding onto a 75-cents raise last year. 

“Without a meals tax, we will never meet the needs of our district,” she said. 

“A 2-percent salary increase is very disappointing,” school board chair and Dale District member Debbie Bailey said. 

During public comment, Sonia Smith, president of the Chesterfield Education Association, said Daugherty’s initial proposed budget “was lofty, but it gave us hope. It gave us an opportunity to dream a little of what could be.” She said the board of supervisors “don’t seem to want to work with us.” 

Capital improvement plan

The school board also unanimously approved a $371.9 million five-year capital improvement plan that, if funded completely, would add eight more schools. 

In the Village News’ coverage area, the plan includes a rebuild of Bensley Elementary by fall of 2024 for $36.5 million, the beginning work on a rebuild of Falling Creek Middle, with completion by fall of 2027 (outside the five-year plan) and a new middle school in the Matoaca/Dale districts by fall 2024 at a cost of $67.1 million. 

The CIP also includes $77 million for major maintenance with $1.75 million of that for security enhancements. 

Daugherty proposed that the supervisors approve a $442.6 million bond referendum for voters to decide. 

New CFO 

At the beginning of the Feb. 25 meeting, Daugherty introduced Robert Meister as the district’s new chief financial officer. Meister has bachelor’s and masters of business administration degrees from the University of Michigan. His most recent job was vice president and chief financial officer at Capital One Financial, Daugherty said. Meister’s first day was March 2.