PE Schools Facing $1.9 Million Net Funding Shortfall

Published 4:19 pm Tuesday, April 10, 2012

PRINCE EDWARD – Supervisors were officially presented the school board's budget request for the coming year last Tuesday and, while funding numbers could trend up once the General Assembly has finally closed the books on the state's budget, there was some positive news in the County Administrator's budget proposal.

The reduction in debt service means that the schools would have an additional $189,210.

Still, with a bevy of cuts already penciled in, it leaves about $600,000 less than the funding the school board had sought.

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Division Superintendent Dr. David Smith noted that it's been “a very difficult budget process,” offering that it's partly because of the unknowns from the state's side, but mostly because of what he cited is a dramatic loss in funding combined with the VRS mandate and the loss of the composite index funding.

“But in looking at the budget for this year…we've tried to focus on several priority items,” he told supervisors.

Dr. Smith detailed that the proposal includes a five percent reduction in Virginia Retirement System contributions (shifting that to employees) and a 5.25 percent increase in pay for workers to offset the additional cost (which impacts about 80 percent of the school's workers); factors a one percent cost of living adjustment for all employees; that there is a realignment of expenditures to offset the loss of stimulus and Jobs fund monies; they have worked to try to maintain funding in areas that relate to the high school turnaround and school improvement efforts at the elementary and middle school; have tried to protect core operating functions and the core subject area of instruction; tried to protect class sizes where possible; are making every effort to achieve staff reductions through attrition wherever possible; and are working hard to continue to increase operating efficiency.

Collectively, faced with the elimination of $904,751 in federal and $709,923 in state funds, there's also the VRS rate increase ($239,500) and the cost of the 5.25 percent salary increase related to the VRS ($892,500) and the proposed one percent salary increase ($170,000).

Collectively, the school division is faced with a net budget shortfall of $1,967,623 when measured with the governor's proposed budget and an Average Daily Membership (ADM) of 2,270 students.

The composite index-a complex formula that calculates a locality's ability to pay-also changed, which means approximatley $360,000 less in state funding.

The school board's $26,132,027 budget request seeks local operating funds totaling $8,130,379 in addition to $572,397 in debt service funds. (The food service budget, which is separate and self-sufficient, was also recommended with no change from the previous year, or $1,087,070.) School board members are seeking $785,334 more in local funding while holding to a contingency list of priority ranked cuts.

A public hearing on the proposed Prince Edward County budget, including the school budget, will be held next Tuesday, April 17, at 7 p.m.

The school board's budget proposal factored level I reductions totaling $1,182,289 in a lengthy list of cuts in such areas as positions, programs, and operational expenditures. It also factored a list of prioritized Level II cut options totaling $787,310. That list includes possibly cutting a division gifted resource teacher ($64,980), a position that has been advertised this year but not filled; middle school special education teacher ($64,980); transferring middle school teacher to be funded with grant monies ($64,980); elementary computer teacher ($64,980), shifting the individual to a currently vacant ITRT position at the elementary school and possibly being able to help with the computers and teachers and support for students while covering the ITRT position; high school German teaching position ($64,980); an additional elementary teaching position ($64,980), which could not be in first-third grades to maintain classroom ratios tied to state funding; combining the agriculture/horticulture position ($64,980); reducing an art teacher position at the high school to half-time ($32,490); a band teacher position ($64,980) – so there would be one teacher to cover both the middle and high schools; and eliminating the proposed one percent salary increase.

There was hope that, once the budget winds its way through that there would be more dollars available.

“The difficulty and the challenge in that is that over the last three years we've made significant budget reductions and we're at a point where everything on that list equates to teaching positions and programs,” cited Dr. Smith.

In their budget discussion, Leigh District Supervisor Don Gantt asked about restructuring debt-if they had some long-term notes they could get better interest rates on.

Dr. Smith agreed it's something they ought to research.

It was also noted some were pretty low, but one was at 4.6.

Gantt suggested refinancing could also help pay for something, such as a roof.

The middle school roof is the most urgent need, Dr. Smith cited. Based on an unsolicited estimate from a roof engineer about three years ago, the cost was estimated at about $1.5 million.

Dr. Smith suggested that they may want to hire an independent objective engineering firm to do an analysis and make some recommendations on the best way to proceed.