WISE — The Wise County Schools superintendent wrapped up his 2019-20 budget update with a commitment to get planning for the next fiscal year underway sooner with Wise County supervisors.

Meeting July 23, the board got budget revisions reflecting a cut in local dollars for the 2019-20 school year and acted to nudge up pay for substitute teachers and to dramatically increase unused sick leave payment rates.

Because they were late in the year getting final word on the budget, Superintendent Greg Mullins told the board, they were still working on employee contracts and hoped to have them in their hands on their first workday.

"It is of utmost importance that our two boards get together early on to begin the plan for next year's budget," Mullins said, adding that he and County Administrator Mike Hatfield were already at work toward that goal.

"We have made the request before and never were able to make it happen," he said. "I do believe it will be a reality this year."

Mullins reminded the board they had first faced the potential of a million-dollar cut from the board of supervisors but, in the end, that number dropped to a little more than $318,000. The final budget adjustment was $372,000 to meet the mark, he said. Finance Director Beth Shupe confirmed Monday morning the transportation equipment category was decreased by $250,000 and operations and maintenance was cut by $142,000.

UNUSED SICK LEAVE

Another reality in the coming year, following improved salary scales last year, will be big increases to reimbursement to employees for unused sick leave. The retirement planning committee has worked through many disagreements to reach consensus on a way to increase rates while still being fiscally responsible, Mullins said.

When employees retire, they are reimbursed for any sick leave they didn't take. Supporters of increased reimbursement rates have argued, among other things, that they are an incentive to not miss work, which comes with the added financial benefit to the division of reducing the cost of substitutes, for example. The potential cost of the increases has been one worry expressed in the past.

Reminding the board of concerns voiced over the years about the low rates, the superintendent recommended the board put into effect the plan proposed by the retirement planning committee.

With no discussion, the board unanimously adopted reimbursement rates that:

• Double the value for the first 90 days of unused sick leave, from $15 per day to $30 per day;

• More than double the value for the next 60 days, from $18 per day to $45 per day; and

• Push all days over that from $40 per day to $60 per day.

SUBSTITUTES

The board also increased pay for substitute teachers, with Mullins noting the board had decreased their pay three years ago during extreme budget constraints.

They have worked since that time to increase those rates, he said. Even though the hike proposed is slight, they hope it will be an incentive to have existing substitutes remain and attract others to come on board with the Wise County school division.

Effective July 1, the new rates of pay per day for substitute teachers are:

• Short term (1-20 days), from $56 to $60; and

• Extended term (21-30 day), from $61 to $65;

Rates stayed the same for long-term substitutes, 31 days and over, at $180 per day, the same as beginning teacher rate of pay (with full certification license in the content area), according to information provided to the board.

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