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No raise for Alleghany Co. teachers despite $1 million budget surplus

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ALLEGHANY COUNTY (WSLS 10) - Teachers in Alleghany County say they're frustrated over not getting a pay raise many of their colleagues across Virginia will soon receive.

Earlier this spring, the school board turned down a 1.5 percent pay raise for teachers from the General Assembly because it required a 1.5 percent local match. At the time, the school board said the division couldn't afford it.

During a recent meeting, the board revealed it now has a $1.15 million budget surplus.

"One of my priorities here is to re-evaluate our salary scale and see what we can do to help our teachers," said Alleghany Co. Superintendent Gene Kotulka, who took over six weeks ago.

He said the savings came from several unexpected places, including teacher retirements, lower fuel costs and savings on textbooks. Kotulka said these budget areas are often difficult to predict. Despite the surplus, it appears unlikely school employees will get a raise this year.

Declining enrollment has also become an issue for the school division. During the 2013-2014 school year Alleghany had 2,258 students. The following year it fell to 2,141, a 117 student drop.

The state provides an average of $3,600 in funding per student, meaning the Alleghany Co. Schools lost more than $420,000 last year.

The next student count will take place in September.

"I think we're all going to sit back and wait and see what happens," said Bob Umstead, the president of the Alleghany Education Association and a special education teacher. "The (teacher) contracts have all been established for this upcoming year."

Umstead met with Kotulka Monday about the issue. While unsure about what will happen to the budget surplus, he's confident in Kotulka's leadership.

"I really believe he listens and I think that's very positive for Alleghany County," Umstead said.

Whether a pay raise is realistic in the near future is unclear, teachers have only had one over the last seven years. But Kotulka plans to be transparent with the process.

"We owe the community, the board of supervisors and the school board an honest evaluation of where we are financially so we can be very predictable in the future of where we need to go with our funds," he said.

The Alleghany County School Board will have its next meeting July 22.