By Randy Arrington
LURAY — School officials across the commonwealth are anxiously awaiting multiple decisions expected out of the General Assembly this week directly related to school funding. Among the biggest concerns is the revenue shortfall related to an error in the formula used for estimating state allocations to local school divisions. Basic aid funding, according to Page County Public Schools Superintendent, Dr. Antonio Fox, was overestimated by the state — and the current local school budget for FY23 was built on those overestimates.
“We’re optimistic that we won’t suffer any negatives from it,” Dr. Fox told members of the Page County School Board during last week’s meeting. “How they get there is pretty complicated, and it differs at the House and the Senate.”
The Virginia Department of Education has created additional safeguards, according to the superintendent, to flag future variances and prevent another “calculation tool error.” The VDOE staff has met with legislators and Governor Glenn Youngkin to request adjustments in the biennium budget so the local school divisions are “held harmless” from the error. Gov. Youngkin has also sent a letter to legislative subcommittees asking them to find a way to cover the unanticipated costs.
In addition to correcting the state calculation oversight, other proposals in education that could enter into local budget discussions in the coming days and weeks include:
• General Assembly’s commitment to hold local school divisions harmless for FY23 impacts due to error, but no mention of FY24 impacts;
• State proposal to increase teacher salaries another 2 percent on top of the 5 percent already planned (12 percent total increase over the two-year biennium budget — previously 10 percent).
“We’ll have to add the extra 2 percent in,” Dr. Fox said. “We do not know if that’s going to be fully funded, partially funded or what from the state…we’re waiting to see what that means and how it’s going to impact potentially the request we then make to the board of supervisors.”
A few state-mandated staff requirements are being considered as well, including the expansion of reading specialist in grades 6 through 8; expanding specialized support positions to four per 1,000 students (social workers, psychologists, nurses, behavior analysts, etc.); increasing instructional assistants in underperforming schools to 1:20; and $1,000 retention bonuses.
“It does look pretty promising for school divisions,” Dr. Fox stated. “There’s actually some really nice amendment adjustments that I think will pay off well for us…depending on which one gets approval. If the Senate budget gets approved it’s very favorable for rural school divisions.”
Among the three state biennium budget amendment proposals being debated in Richmond, the following shows how much each version means for local school funding in Page County:
• $27 million — Governor Youngkin’s proposed budget amendments;
• $27.2 million — House amendments;
• $28.7 million — Senate amendments.
“So, as you can see,” Dr. Fox said to school board members last week, “we want the Senate [version] to pass because it is a substantial amount of money for the division.”
To be exact, the Senate version of the budget amendments allocates nearly $1.7 million more in state funding for Page County Schools than Governor Youngkin’s version.
With the 60-day, “short session” of the General Assembly scheduled to wrap up in the next 10 days, school officials are hoping for more concrete information soon about state funding that could not only affect the present budget, but the FY24 budget that is currently being discussed as well.
The school board has a joint meeting with the Page County Board of Supervisors scheduled for 6 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 16 at Page County Middle School to discuss the county budget and capital improvement projects.
Dr. Fox is planning to present a proposed budget to the school board on March 9.
Follow events at Page County Public Schools on the their website.