CLINTWOOD — Dickenson County School Board adopted a $26.2 million budget June 26 after hearing highlights, final adjustments and clarification on several personnel positions that had raised questions.

The board also approved a new salary scale that was the result of a year’s work among school personnel in collaboration with the county.

The 2019-2020 spending plan delivers overall 5.4 percent raises to all full-time employees. There was also funding added to part-time personnel wages to help with retention, Superintendent Haydee Robinson noted.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Ervinton District member Shanghai Nickles said. Nickles said they have come so far since he’s been on the board but expressed disappointment and doubt on the lack of money going to Ervinton Elementary School. All indications are that the school “is a short-timer,” he said, adding, “I hope not in my tenure.”

Sandlick District board member Rocky Barton said it’s the best budget news in 10 years, attributing financial gains to attendance and enrollment numbers.

Barton reminded the board what happens if they consolidate elementary schools and lose students. “Why,” he asked, “after we’ve hit bottom and started back up, why start this again?”

Willis District board member Rick Mullins observed that the school system is the best it’s ever been with credit shared on the part of everyone — from test scores to absenteeism improvements to the raises and overhauled salary scales. He said he never dreamed they would be able to balance the budget with the gains included.

There been so much success, he said, “I’m just so proud to sit in this room.”

Employees totally deserve raises, said Chair Susan Mullins of the Kenady District. Mullins wound up being the sole vote against the budget, however, saying she had not been able to attend an earlier discussion with administration about the spending plan.

One of the big changes included in the budget this year is the expansion of free lunches to every student in Dickenson County, including Ridgeview High School, Business and Finance Director Larry Barton told the board.

Ridgeview Middle School and all elementary schools already had been participating in the successful program but the high school had not been able to qualify for what’s known as the Community Eligibility Program.

CEP comes with both additional revenue, Barton said, but additional cost of food and staffing time that offset the gain.

The total cost of salaries for the 2019-2020 year is $11,567,580 and the proposed increase next year moves to $11,678,806.

“It’s a big deal to have something sustainable,” Barton said.

Barton said the budget reflects a 5.35 percent increase, or roughly $850,000, over last year.

He noted that payroll and benefits account for 84.02 percent of the total budget, standard across most school divisions.

Does this include the new positions that had been discussed with the county board of supervisors? Chair Mullins asked, making reference to the meeting the previous night. (See related story.)

Yes, Robinson said.

Are they okay with that? Mullins asked.

“Let me answer this way,” the superintendent said. “They approved their budget.”

The division got additional state money to help cover raises for teachers and what are known as Standards of Quality positions, but that funding did not apply to all employees. The budget supervisors adopted the night before, which included $7 million to schools, also incorporated some $275,000 the division needed to fully fund increases for all employees.

Robinson said they would be discussing hires for the four positions in question that night in closed session.

Barton noted — and Robinson reiterated — that those positions already were in the original first draft of budget not jobs just added.

From the outset of budget work in spring, the spending plan has included replacing positions of those who retired, filling vacant bus driver jobs and replacing two busses.

It has included hiring two teachers for art and music at elementary schools and adding a full-time nursing instructor.

It has included the hiring of a full-time certified occupational therapy assistant, a full-time attendance coordinator, additional guidance staffing for testing and counseling and one full-time instructional technology recourse teacher.

The board has heard from the superintendent before on the ramifications of new state mandates that define how much time counselors, formerly known as guidance counselors, spend with students.

In Dickenson County and other school divisions, guidance counselors over the years had shouldered more and wide-ranging responsibilities, such as testing and other duties. Additional staffing is needed to free up counselors to spend fully 80 percent of their time directly with students.