WARM SPRINGS — The Bath County School Board is planning a flat budget for fiscal year 2021-22 that contains no new positions and no new programs.

The school board discussed its “very incomplete” budget Tuesday night during a joint work session with the Bath County Board of Supervisors.

The two boards met upstairs in the School Administration Building.

“As we prepared our first draft of the budget, we did ask our departments, principals, directors to present a balanced budget — no more than last year — a flat budget,” Superintendent Sue Hirsh explained. “We are very close to a flat budget, as it stands at the moment.”

School officials continue to monitor budget negotiations in the Virginia General Assembly.

“We are watching now to see how the General Assembly will in conference come up with one budget — since the House and Senate have each shared theirs — we hope to have calculation tools for those budgets by the end of the week,” Hirsh said.

Officials are also following various education bills as they navigate their way through the General Assembly.

“They will bring new responsibilities to schools, often with unfunded mandates,” Hirsh said.

Justin Rider, business manager for Bath County Public Schools, said the 2021-22 budget is based on 500 students attending Bath County schools next year. Under the governor’s proposed budget, this could result in a reduction of $49,212 in state funds.

“As it stands, it does not bode very well for us,” Rider said.

Bath County’s preliminary budget also doesn’t contain 2 percent bonuses that are proposed in the governor’s budget.

Rider described the budget as “very incomplete” at this time.

“We haven’t had a second work session,” he said.

One area of concern for both school officials and county officials is an anticipated increase in health insurance costs.

Rider said health insurance rates are expected to increase at least 15 percent, and it could go as high as 17.3 percent. A 15 percent hike would raise health insurance premiums $149,420 in 2021-22.

“We’re looking at a pretty hefty increase,” Rider said. “We likely won’t know rates until mid-April.”

County Administrator Ashton Harrison echoed Rider’s pessimism.

“I’m not optimistic that our insurance rate is going to go down,” he said. “I think our claims history is too high.”

Hirsh also briefly reviewed capital improvement requests for the upcoming fiscal year.

She said replacing an in-ground heating oil tank at Millboro Elementary School has been removed from the CIP list and will be financed through PILT (payment in lieu of taxes)?receipts that were appropriated to the school board by supervisors last week.

“It’s something that needs to be done sooner than later,” Hirsh said.

She added that school officials are also interested in replacing a boiler at Bath County High School.

School officials are also planning for increases in the minimum wage. The minimum wage now stands at $9.50, but will increase to $11 on Jan. 1, 2022, then to $12 an hour on Jan. 1, 2023.

“This is going to be with us for awhile,” she said.

Hirsh said attracting and retaining teachers continues to be a challenge for Bath County Public Schools.

“We’re not always as competitive as we would like to be,” she said. “Where we do make a difference is in our supplemental pay, where people with a higher degree — a master’s degree or above — that tends to be competitive with the area.”

Hirsh added that teachers relocating to Bath County must move, then find an affordable place to live.

“All of that has been a challenge for us in the last few years,” she said.

Following the joint work session, the school board held its own budget work session as it prepares for a public hearing on the budget March 2.

Budget approval is scheduled for March 9, while another joint work session with supervisors is on the calendar for March 31.

The new fiscal year begins July 1.