The Pittsylvania County Schools budget committee, chaired by Tom Sanders, discusses how to prioritize the school division's needs for the upcoming 2019-20 school year on Thursday night.

CHATHAM — There was a dark humor laced in much of the discussion during Thursday night’s budget committee meeting for Pittsylvania County Schools as the group wrestled with the needs sitting in front of them.

The meeting began with a scroll through the lengthy list of funding requests received by the central office from its various departments and schools that totaled nearly $12.4 million initially presented during their first meeting a week before.

Director of Finance Tracey Worley said staff met on Wednesday to present a list of 15 items of top priority to each department that had cut the cost by over half to $6.1 million.

The implementation of phase two of the county schools’ compensation study makes up over a third of that total at $2.4 million, and it’s also the highest priority.

However, with the governor’s proposed budget potentially increasing the state-funded raises from 3 to 5 percent, the school hopes to have at least $1.96 million of that raise covered by state monies.

The county schools are projected to receive another $150,000 from the state, leaving $3.9 million for the school board to request from supervisors.

Of that, the school division’s maintenance needs account for another $2.45 million as they near a boiling point. This would be locally funded.

Over the past year, the maintenance staff has made countless patches to the roofs of Kentuck Elementary School and Stoney Mill Elementary School, as well as to the Pittsylvania Career and Technical Center’s roof.

Director of Maintenance Mike Hutson said the roofs on Kentuck and Stoney Mill had a warranty for 15 years; it’s been 23 years since they’ve been replaced.

Decisions to opt for cheaper roofs a couple decades combined with cuts to the maintenance budget after the recession has left the staff with few options for repairing leaks as the rubber wears out beyond patches.

“We’ve cut a million dollars out of our general operations maintenance budget since the recession,” Worley said.

With each year one maintenance need isn’t repaired or replaced, others areas begin to ail as well, ultimately compounding on each other and adding to the cost.

Kentuck’s roof replacement — determined to be the most critical after the past year by staff — would cost an estimate of $600,000. A new roof for the career and tech center will cost another $1.2 million.

Stoney Mill’s roof didn’t make the list of the school division’s top 15 needs.

As he looked down the list at the maintenance troubles, budget committee chairman Tom Sanders said he didn’t see anyway around the high price tag on these projects.

“I don’t know how you can do half a roof,” he said. “When the time comes, you have to be all in.”

Superintendent Mark Jones agreed with Sanders.

“At some point these things will have to be done, and then there’s another list after this,” said Jones. “We’ll have to cross this bridge at some point in the next few years.”

The committee members discussed how, as projects are looked over funding, issues pile up until finally everything comes due at once.

“There comes a time when you don’t have a choice,” said Sanders.

A grim laughter filled the air at different points of the 50-minute meeting.

When one committee member asked what happens when a maintenance need arises in the middle of the year and the funding is run out, chuckling ensued after Worley said, “We have to rob Peter to pay Paul.”

Ultimately, the committee opted against prioritizing the 15 item list further, believing they were all necessities worth requesting.

“If you don’t ask, you can’t receive,” said Sanders after the meeting.

He said everyone understands there’s a limited supply of funds from both the state and locality sides.

“We’re just getting in line,” he said.

The board decided that the staff will send the preliminary budget request to county officials on Friday to make them aware of the priorities, which also include adding money to the maintenance division’s annual operating budget and six new positions to school division.

Halle Parker reports for the Danville Register & Bee. Contact her at hparker@registerbee.com or (434) 791-7981.

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