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Money talks: Waynesboro School Board discusses 2025 budget, COVID-19 reimbursements

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Waynesboro Schools received information after its regular May school board meeting on funding from the Commonwealth for 2024-2025, but the final amount remains uncertain for 2023-2024.

“At the May meeting, we knew that the state budget had been adopted, but we did not know what that meant for us,” Waynesboro Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff Cassell said at the board’s regular meeting Tuesday night.

The school system can expect at least $202,000 more than originally expected from the state, mostly for at-risk youth programming.

“Part of that is that our at-risk population continues to grow,” Cassell said.

The recommendation from staff was not to amend the budget to allocate the unexpected funding amount.

Regardless of the final budget amount from Virginia, Cassell said it is possible Waynesboro Schools will have a surplus of unspent state funding for 2024.

“We’re within our budget and we’ll be fine,” Cassell said.

However, Cassell said the school system is “hopeful” for additional state funding. “Because, we don’t know what the state funds are, so we’re not going to spend any of it,” he said.

Executive Director of Finance Vonda Hutchinson said the school system received $13.7 million in federal funding during and just after the COVID-19 pandemic, which was allocated to the school systems 17 times. And one more round is anticipated before September 2024.

“This goes back to March the 13th. We all know what happened on March the 13th of 2020, and it didn’t take long for our federal government and our state government to start issuing money to school systems to ensure that we could continue instruction and we could survive and keep our employees working,” Hutchinson said.

However, according to Hutchinson, some of the funding has not been spent and must be spent by the school system, as allocated by the federal government, before October 1, 2024. Funding from the American Rescue Plan remains in the amount of a little more than $2,000, $100,000 for Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief and a little more than $20,000 for summer school.

“With those remaining balances, we definitely have a plan to spend all of it,” Hutchinson said.

Some of the funding is being spent across programs during the summer.

“I think it was spent efficiently and that we leveraged that and accomplished a lot of good things in our facilities and in our programs and in our staffing,” Cassell said.

Debra Freeman, chair of the Waynesboro School Board, said that staff “made decisions that benefitted the city as a whole,” not just the school system. If the funding had not been spent in the manner it was spent, the city of Waynesboro would have had to pay.

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Ryan Barber said the school system is still looking to hire several positions for the 2024-2025 school year, including four custodial positions.

Four routes are returning to Waynesboro Schools bus routes with the hire of four new bus drivers, Executive Director of Operations DeWayne Moore said.

A modular unit has arrived at Berkeley Glenn Elementary School and is being installed to provide services for Waynesboro students with special needs who were displaced when Pygmalion School closed in December 2023 in Staunton.

Lastly, school board member Rick Wheeler announced Tuesday night that he will not seek re-election for 2025.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.