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Waynesboro Schools continues plans to hire new staff, bus drivers with no state budget

Photo courtesy Waynesboro Public Schools.

The Commonwealth is in an unprecedented time. The Virginia General Assembly has yet to agree on a budget for fiscal year 2024.

The Commonwealth continues to operate just fine because its budget is a two-year process, and Gov. Glenn Youngkin proposed an amended two-year budget in December 2022 to cover July 1, 2022 to June 30, 2024.

However, local governments, including school systems, are left hanging while they await finalized budget numbers. In the meantime, school systems like Waynesboro will operate on the state’s “skinny budget.”

Waynesboro Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff Cassell said Tuesday night at a regular meeting of the school board that the Commonwealth does not have a budget and does not have a timeline of when a budget might be possible. At this point, the governor may have to call a special session for the General Assembly to approve a budget.

“We’re in good shape in terms of personnel, salaries,” Cassell assured the school board.

He added that if the school system does end up operating in the 2023-2024 school year on the state’s “skinny budget,” then costs will be reduced elsewhere and not with staffing.

When the school year begins in August, the school system is looking at three open positions which principals at the respective schools are making plans for “at least minimal disruption” to students and schedules.

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Ryan Barber said the school system is working with all locations to recruit staff.

“We are able to recruit from all of the major universities in Virginia,” Barber said.

For the 2022-2023 school year, the school system filled a monumental 108 new positions.

“It’s not usually like that,” Barber said.

New hires came from top schools such as Mary Baldwin University, JMU and Radford University.

Forty-two new hires were necessary for the 2023-2024 school year, and several are graduates of Radford, JMU and UVA.

Previously, according to Barber, data suggested that Waynesboro Schools was unable to recruit staff from more well-off school systems such as Albemarle County, Charlottesville, Fairfax or Spotsylvania. However, this year’s data does not support that fact. He said new hires last year cited lifestyle not money as motivation for accepting positions with Waynesboro Schools.

“I think that’s a compliment to everybody in the room, and to our board and to our school system,” Cassell said. He added that current staff members often refer new hires. “We’ve worked hard on benefits and salaries, but I think we have a good culture and people want to work for us, and sometimes leave and come back.”

The school system will hold its first convocation ceremony at Waynesboro High School for new staff on August 1, with a national guest speaker. A division-wide convocation has not been held in more than five years.

“It’s a good opportunity for everybody to come together, hear the same message,” Cassell said.

Cassell said that the school system’s buildings are ready for students to return.

The only concern for the school system less than a month from the start of the new school year is transportation. A bus driver was hired Tuesday before the meeting but three more are needed to fill the school system’s fleet.

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.