The Northern Virginia Daily's Political Depot

A service for our readers outside the Northern Shenandoah Valley... a sampling of The Daily's political coverage, plus unofficial, 'reporter's notebook' stuff. And occasional dry humor...

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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Budget may mean more funds for teachers; A1

By Garren Shipley (Daily Staff Writer)

A compromise state budget approved by the Senate on Monday should make it easier to hire teachers in two Northern Shenandoah Valley counties in the near future.

Senators voted 36-0 in favor of a $72 billion budget deal that, if approved by the House of Delegates, would avoid a looming state government shutdown and provide new funding for schools in Clarke and Warren counties.

The two systems were included in the “cost of competition” for the first time. Systems near Washington, D.C., get extra money for teacher pay to help them hire in the highly competitive market.

All in all, it’s a good deal, said Del. Clay Athey, R-Front Royal.

“I guess the best description I can give to it is that the Senate acceded to the House’s position on a whole bunch of positions,” he said.

Both sides have plenty to be pleased with.

“We reached out and really accomplished some things with this budget,” Athey said.

“This has not been an easy exercise, as you must know,” Sen. John H. Chichester, R-Fredericksburg, told his colleagues on the floor of the Senate.

“Obviously compromises were made,” he said. “But what you have before you is an excellent general fund budget.”

The budget deal looks pretty good for Warren County, even without the cost of competition allowance, said Superintendent of Schools Pamela McInnis.

It’s “better than we had anticipated when all this budget talk had begun,” she said.

The new money is being phased in over time — 10 percent in fiscal 2007, 25 percent in 2008 — but it’s still a healthy chunk of change.

Warren will get an additional $206,769 this year, while Clarke will add $61,181. In 2008, those numbers go up to $564,000 and $155,000, respectively.

With Loudoun County within easy driving distance, local systems have to pay more money to recruit and keep teachers.

And Loudoun, one of the fastest growing counties in the nation, has a voracious appetite for teachers. McInnis said Loudoun is opening six new schools in the coming years.

“I certainly don’t fault them,” she said. “They’ve got to deal with their growing population.”
Area legislators also sought to have Winchester, Frederick and Shenandoah counties receive the additional funding, but were unsuccessful.

Other provisions of the budget give all state employees, including teachers, a 4 percent pay raise, and $200 million will go to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

“Part of that goes to a fund that gives zero-interest loans to those local governments [for wastewater treatment plants] so they can go ahead and build those facilities,” Athey said.

A number of communities in the Northern Shenandoah Valley, including Middletown, Winchester and Frederick County, are in the process of building new and upgrading existing wastewater treatment plants to deal with a growing population and tighter standards.

Drivers looking for car tax relief in this year’s budget will be disappointed, though.

Senate conferees carried the day and removed $50 million from the House version of the budget, money that would have been used to keep the state share of car tax payments at 70 percent.

Legislators capped the program at $950 million in 2004. That funding will be depleted this year, causing car tax bills to rise significantly in some areas of the state.

Senators also voted 24-9 with two abstentions to curtail the estate tax and make significant cuts to the state’s land conservation tax credit program.

Not everyone was happy with the deal.

Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath County, urged his colleagues to defeat the changes.
Virginians have claimed some $380 million in credits since the program began in 2000, Deeds said.

“We are retreating,” he said. “We are not cutting this program 5 percent or 10 percent, we’re cutting it 40 percent. I’m afraid we’re taking a big step backwards in terms of land conservation.”

“I’m not particularly happy with capping of the amount people can use for conservation easements,” Athey said before the Senate vote.

Local governments in the Northern Shenandoah Valley have made significant use of the program to encourage development in more urban areas.

“I’m not elated with that part of it,” he said. “But that’s part of a compromise.”

The House convenes today at noon.