By Rebecca J. Barnabi
For Augusta Free Press
WAYNESBORO — The wait is almost over for teachers and staff in Waynesboro Schools.
After several budget year attempts to give employees raises, the school system hopes to make them a reality in 2021-2022.
“The big news in the budget is a 5 percent raise for employees,” said Waynesboro Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff Cassell. “We’ve finally been able to do something [for employee raises].”
Waynesboro School Board adopted a budget for 2021-2022 of $42,389,703.
Waynesboro Schools will receive “significant state money,” Cassell said, as well as significant funds from the city.
“Fiscal year ’19 and fiscal year ’20 were really good years for the city,” he said.
However, the pandemic last spring did impact local funds.
“We have significantly more local funds and state funds [for 2021-2022],” Cassell said.
The school system will also receive $1.4 million in federal funds from the CARES Act and the American Rescues Act. Cassell said the federal funds will allow the school system to update heating and ventilation systems in some buildings, as well as cover costs for additional bus drivers, teachers and substitute teachers necessary for in-person learning so that students and staff can return to school buildings and continue to social distance.
“It’s overall a very good budget year,” Cassell said.
Cassell said the school system’s proposed 2021-2022 budget must be submitted to the city by the fourth Monday in March, which is next Monday.
Last year, Cassell did not give a presentation of the budget to city council because Virginia’s mandatory lockdown restrictions for the COVID-19 pandemic had just begun. He said he is unsure if he will give a presentation this year, but city council adopts its budget and approves the school system’s budget in May.
The school system also has an updated plan for in-person instruction.
“We will have brought back by spring break [April 5] all high school students who want to return,” Cassell said.
Kate Collins Middle School students who choose to return to in-person instruction will also have returned by April 5.
Instruction at the school system’s four elementary schools is different, Cassell said, because of limited space.
Kindergarten students have attended in-person five days a week since October, while Berkeley Glenn Elementary School students returned last week four days a week because the school has space needed for social distancing in the classrooms.
Wenonah Elementary School “will have 1st and 2nd and 5th [grade students] four days a week.” The school is working on bringing back 3rd and 4th grade students in person.
“Other buildings are bringing in students as they have capacity,” Cassell said.
Social distancing and wearing masks are required by everyone in the school buildings.
Waynesboro Schools, Cassell said, is working with 6-feet social distancing, while other school systems in Virginia are going by 3 feet.
“We’ve decided on 6 feet,” Cassell said, which is also according to the Center of Disease Control’s guideline. “We’re just more comfortable right now with 6 feet.”
Some Waynesboro Schools teachers will remain teaching virtually to students who choose to learn virtually.
“I think our virtual plan is working well for us,” Cassell said.
Better broadband is available in the River City, and the school system has provided hotspots for families who do not have Internet service, as well as devices such as Chrome books.
Cassell said that “all of our students are connecting virtually, or should be [able to].”
Some elementary, middle and high school students “are remaining virtual [learners]. Some students have been very successful [as virtual learners].”