No raise for teachers: Schools adjust budget after reduction in state funds

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By Randy Arrington

LURAYPage County Public Schools recently adjusted its projected budget for FY2021 after learning local schools would receive less than anticipated from the state and level funding from the county. Among those adjustments — no raises for teachers.

On April 22, the Virginia General Assembly made adjustments to the state’s biennium budget that will result in a reduction of $539,583 from the anticipated state funding for Page Schools in the next fiscal year. That brings Page’s total state funding from an anticipated $24.3 million down to $23.7 million for FY21. 

Despite the reduction, Page will still receive an increase of $1.3 million in state funds over the previous year. However, Superintendent Wendy Gonzales said those figures could still change.

“We don’t have those final figures yet, as the governor has to finalize the suggestions the [General Assembly] made,” Dr. Gonzales said on Wednesday. “However, we have made adjustments based on the Governor’s changes (unalottments) he presented prior to the [General Assembly] meeting on April 22.

“When the Governor signs off on his budget,” the superintendent added, “then we have to get updated calculation tools from [the Virginia Department of Education].” 

In addition to the state reduction, the Page County Board of Supervisors will not be approving the $299,642 increase in local funding requested by the school division. The county has finalized its FY21 budget with the same $14.3 million allocation as the current school year.

“We have cut everything we can cut, so we hope we still get level funding,” Dr. Gonzales told school board members during Monday night’s live-streamed meeting. “We were worried we’d get less.”

Most of the adjustments or cuts made in the school budget related to the reduction of state funding, according to Dr. Gonzales, were tied to programs and initiatives funded by the state. Those adjustments include:

  • Eliminating 2-percent raises for teachers and staff;
  • Eliminating the extra VPI classroom with a teacher and assistant;
  • Not hiring more counselors to meet ratio guidelines.

“With local level funding, we had to look at things we should have, but could do without for a year, like taking away tuition assistance, not expanding an assistant position (not hiring one), reducing our number of seats at the regional governor’s schools thereby saving tuition, not buying a new bus, etc.,” Dr. Gonzales said. “Unfortunately, these cuts do impact our students and staff as well as division operations. However, we tried to spread out the cuts so that one or two areas were not getting impacted more than others.”

Overall, the total projected FY21 budget for Page Schools is now at $42.4 million — an increase of $473,284 (or 1.25%) over the current budget.

Supervisors requested a report from the school system about projected “savings” due to the current closure resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. An April 20 memo from the schools listed the following savings as a result of the closure:

  • $97,000 — Substitues (instruction, transportation, custodial)
  • $27,200 — 15-percent estimated decrease in electrical bills
  • $22,000 — diesel / gas / fuel

The $146,000 listed in potential savings due to the closure that began March 13 came with a few potential revenue shortfalls and a few new expenditures cited by the superintendent.

“[These ‘savings’] are due to change based on anticipated declines in sales tax that will affect us in the coming months,” Dr. Gonzales stated in an April 20 memo to County Administrator Amity Moler. “And, as mentioned in my last memo, our unemployment claims are skyrocketing (as of today we may be billed $47,000). We are also trying to save money by filling up our oil and diesel tanks while the prices are low in anticipation for the fall.”

The superintendent also stated the “savings” may help with unanticipated health insurance costs.

“We remain in our transition year from self-insured to fully insured,” the April 20 memo continues. “We have claims still coming in (we just received one for over $30,000 for a procedure done last spring). We have to have funds available in anticipation of more claims that could still come in between now and September for which we are responsible to pay.”

The superintendent also notes that “many contracts and services still have to be paid monthly regardless of school closures and/or usage.”

Dr. Gonzales told the school board on Monday night that she hopes the school system can keep its “gentlemen’s agreement” with the county to keep any unallocated or leftover funds on June 30 to apply to ongoing capital projects such as a well at PCHS/PCMS and a sewer line at LES.

A vote on the county budget, to include the school budget’s $14.3 million in local funding, is anticipated by county supervisors on Tuesday, May 5. 

There was no public comment on the budget during a public hearing held April 21. The total proposed FY21 budget for Page County currently sits at $70.5 million.

After receiving final approval from the supervisors on May 5, the school board plans to then adopt its final budget for FY21 on May 11. 

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