The proposed Roanoke County Public Schools budget allows the division to “really invest in its people” in the 2019-2020 school year, said Superintendent Ken Nicely.

Finance Director Susan Peterson delivered an overview of Nicely’s $171.3 million budget proposal to the school board Thursday.

The average employee raise would be 3.15 percent, Peterson said. A one-step salary increase for all employees and a 1.5 percent shift to the salary scale for teachers and support staff would cost about $3.2 million.

The budget projects $2.5 million increase in revenue from the state and $1.6 million more from Roanoke County in the new school year. Proposed pay increases in the budget meet the state’s match requirements for more state funding for teacher pay in the two-year budget, Nicely said.

Beyond seeking to attract and retain teachers, Nicely said, the budget also attempts to address another challenge: finding substitute bus drivers. Substitute bus drivers would get $16.50 per hour, a $4 increase.

Another investment made in the new budget is in communication and safety, Nicely said. The division would spend about $334,000 for new radio infrastructure through a five-year lease.

School board Chairman Don Butzer said migrating to the new system would improve the schools’ communication with local law enforcement.

Board members applauded Peterson for her work during budget planning meetings over the last several months. Board member Jason Moretz, who represents the Windsor Hills district, said the board prioritizes compensation.

Of the $4.2 million in new revenue in the proposal, 76 percent is allocated to personnel, Moretz said.

“If we had more, it would be more,” he said.

The board’s Hollins representative, Dave Linden, was absent. A vote to adopt the preliminary budget is scheduled for March 28.

In other business, Butzer announced the division will partner with former school board member Tom McCracken to help supplement the division’s anti-bullying program.

McCracken, the pastor of CommUNITY Church in Salem, represented the Catawba district on the school board in 2016 before resigning mid-year. In his place, the board appointed Butzer, who had lost to McCracken in the 2015 election. Butzer won a special election to keep the Catawba seat for the final three years of the term.

McCracken said he gave serious thought to running again this year after receiving support from members of the community and his congregation. But he felt he could best serve the county by helping develop a holistic anti-bullying initiative.

The program will incorporate suggestions from McCracken’s doctoral dissertation research, which is centered on peer intervention in bullying, Butzer said.

McCracken told The Roanoke Times he started his doctoral dissertation research three years ago at Piedmont International University before switching to Liberty University, where he will earn a specialist degree in educational leadership in May. He said he hopes to complete a doctoral degree in education within the next two years.

McCracken spoke to the board on bullying during the public comment period of a meeting earlier this month.

Butzer said he was especially interested in an issue raised by McCracken of bystanders not intervening when bullying takes place.

Jamie Soltis, director of secondary instruction, is leaving the division to become Salem City Schools’ director of instruction and career readiness. Soltis served as principal at Glenvar Middle School and Glenvar High School before joining Roanoke County central office this school year.

Soltis’ move to Salem is effective July 1.

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