The escalating war between Floyd County Supervisors and the School Board took another turn Wednesday night when the county’s governing body voted 3-1 to shift $125,000 from the school system’s administrative budget and spread it across over budget categories along with the recommendation to use the shifted money to give teachers and other school system employees a 1 percent raise.
“I know this isn’t much but it’s better than nothing,” said Little River Supervisor Virgel Allen, who offered the motion to move the money. “It shows the school employees that we do have a heart and compassion for them.”
School superintendent Terry W. Arbogast — whose ever-changing accounts of his actual salary have changed several times in recent weeks — said his crew is ready to go to war over the increasing tensions between the school system and supervisors and says too many “lies” have been told.
Arbogast is right about one thing: Too much misinformation has been passed on to the public over what he is paid and exactly what it costs to administer the school system that eats up more than two-thirds of the county’s $29 million annual budget.
Sadly, much of that misinformation has come from the superintendent himself and the school board. Both has been less than transparent about what the school system chief is paid and where the money comes from.
For several years, the school board submitted a budget to the county that lists the superintendent’s salary as $98,000 a year when the actual direct compensation was $118,000. However, when you add in annuities and a generous car allowance, the superintendent’s checks from the county treasurer actually add up to a little over $168,000 a year.
To make matters worse, Arbogast and school board chairman Doug Phillips tell differing stories about just how and why the school board gave the superintendent several raises that has almost doubled his salary and benefits since 1995.
Phillips told me and Roanoke Times reporter Katelyn Polantz that the board informally approved — without a contract or public record — a series of raises based on job offers Arbogast received from other school system or when he discussed leaving his job. Arbogast says he only had one other job consideration — and withdrew from that one.
At the very least, both the board and superintendent have been vague about the actual amounts paid to the school system boss. It’s a lack of transparency that even led long-time school system supporter and Indian Valley Supervisor Fred Gerald to vote for moving the funds out of administration for use for pay raises. The supervisors’ action, Gerald says, “sends a message” to the school board that “more transparency is needed.”
When supervisors voted two weeks ago to reduce the school board’s funding back to current year levels, the school board’s action — based on Arbogast’s recommendations — was to vote to eliminate teacher positions and freeze teacher and other school employee salaries — which have been frozen for the past three years and have remained stagnant in years when the school board approved generous raises for the school superintendent.
The board’s intent was clear: Generate teacher and public anger against the board of supervisors. That plan may have backfired because the supervisors found a way Wednesday night to move funds and give raises to school employees.
While the supervisors now have category by category control over the school board budget, they can only recommend to the school’s governing body. The school board must accept the budget changes but they don’t have to use the 125 grand for raises. They can spend it on other things.
However, the supervisors have called the school system’s bluff and put them in a box. If they don’t accept the recommendation to use the funds for a one percent raise they will have to take the heat themselves — something that could have been easily avoided if they had just been open and honest with the public and the board of supervisors for the past several years.