By Randy Arrington
LURAY, July 25 — As state legislators left school systems in limbo throughout this year’s budget process, the Page County School Board moved forward and approved an FY24 spending plan on May 11, knowing that there would be amendments in the weeks to follow.
While the original budget did not include — and contracts were issued to teachers without — a state-mandated 5-percent salary increase, the state legislature has now committed to funding all Standard of Quality (SOQ) positions for the planned increase. However, that only covers about two-thirds of the faculty and staff within the local school division’s 600-plus employees.
On July 17, the Page County Board of Supervisors approved an additional local allocation of $623,353 to cover 5-percent salary increases for all non-SOQ positions in the school system. The total compensation increase across the division cost $1.4 million, with the state picking up about $841,000. The supervisors also appropriated an additional $109,621 to hire an additional early childhood special education teacher and an instructional aide.
“We do want to say ‘Thank you’ publicly to the board of supervisors,” Dr. Antonio Fox, superintendent of Page County Public Schools, said during Tuesday’s school board meeting. “It’s huge for our division…I mean to think about it, you just now had a 12-percent increase [in teacher salaries] over two years…it’s unprecedented in education.”
“It’s unprecedented in Page County,” District 4 school board member Duane Painter responded.
While the state mandated a 10-percent increase over two years — 5 percent during each annual cycle of the biennium budget — the rules seemed to constantly change coming from Richmond, including a statement at one point that Page County would not receive credit for giving a 7-percent total raise last year (the state’s 5 percent, plus 2 percent on top in FY23).
Some supervisors latched on to that point, claiming that only a 3-percent raise was needed to meet the state mandate in FY24.
“Initially, the board of supervisors was initially only proposing a 3-percent [increase], and in their mind, they were saying 3 percent because of the 7 percent we gave last year gets us to 10 [percent total],” Dr. Fox told the school board on Tuesday. “Money from the state this year was the full 5 percent, so if they’d gone with with the 3 percent, they would have left over $340,000 on the table, meaning that money would have been returned to the state…we could not use that state money for anything else other than raises.”
The superintendent says the increases help the local school division be more competitive and make progress in their regional standing for attracting teachers. Once the finance and human resource departments complete their paperwork, contracts will be reissued to all faculty and staff reflecting the 5-percent increase for the upcoming school year. Dr. Fox said the process should be completed within a couple of weeks, and teachers will have the option to sign new contracts digitally.
With the state legislators’ inaction on amendments to the biennium budget — after its regular session and a called special session — Governor Youngkin’s original “skinny” budget remains in place. Page schools lost out on potentially an additional $2 million due to the legislative stalemate, and have not received an answer on FY24 forgiveness from the “state calculator” mistakes made in Richmond during the last budget cycle (potentially costing local taxpayers another $50,000 to $60,000).
“Since the approval of that ‘skinny’ budget when they ended their legislative session earlier this year, they’ve made no movement on the budget…and that is a disappointment to every school division across the state,” Dr. Fox said of state legislators on Tuesday. “And it’s not just school divisions…it’s a disappointment to others…localities, police departments, department of social services…So we’re hoping that they will head the call to come back to the table and revisit some of those amendments. That would be beneficial to us and our kids.”
On July 19, the Governor’s office once again called on state lawmakers to come back to the table after reporting that Virginia’s general fund revenues completed the last fiscal year on June 30 with an estimated “$3 billion over the official revenue forecast, generating $5.1 billion in excess resources for the year.”
For the full fiscal year, Virginia’s overall general fund revenues were far better than the 14-percent decline assumed in the official forecast, according to the July 19 press release — declining by just 3.5 percent. The official estimate assumed a reversal of the extraordinary growth in individual income tax non-withholding payments related to capital gains realizations in the prior year while the actual year-over-year change was significantly smaller than projected, the release stated.
That surplus, the Governor says, can help address problems left unresolved after the last legislative session.
“Virginians remain overtaxed. Last year we provided $4 billion of tax relief for individuals, families and veterans. What this year’s preliminary numbers tell us is that even after that historic tax package the Commonwealth ended fiscal year 2023 with $5.1 billion in excess resources, far more than forecasted,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin. “There is plenty of money in the system to fund our shared priorities of education, behavioral health and law enforcement while returning more of Virginians hard-earned dollars back to their wallets.
“Just as we did last year, I am calling on the General Assembly to reject the partisan, business-as-usual approach in Richmond, and agree on a deal that lowers the cost of living and cost of doing business in Virginia while investing in our shared priorities,” Gov. Youngkin stated. “This is not about Republicans and Democrats. It’s not about the Senate or the House. It’s about delivering for Virginians.”
School staff acknowledges that the quagmire in Richmond has caused additional work at the local level, including multiple budget adjustments and the reissuing of teacher contracts which will become retroactive to July 1.
In addition to approving the raises and new positions, the lengthy budget resolution adopted by the school board on Tuesday also included departmental transfers — shifting $735,000 from instruction to transportation ($220,000), operations and maintenance (($475,000), and technology ($40,000) — and the carryover of $2.5 million in unspent state and federal capital improvements funds from FY23 to FY24.
The categorial approvals are now required by the board of supervisors after a change in the budget process last year. While the jail budget is separated from the overall sheriff’s budget, no other department in county government is subject to categorical approval of its budget, except the school system.
The total operating budget for local schools in FY24 is $43.6 million. Adding $2.5 million for capital improvements and another $2.2 million for food services brings the grand total to $48.2 million.
Revenue sources for the FY24 school operating budget totaling $43.6 million breaks down as follows:
- $22.9 million — state funding (52.5%)
- $11.7 million — local funding (26.8%)
- $4.5 million — sales tax (9.7%)
- $3.8 million — federal funds (8.2%)
- $615,000 — other (1.3%)
New teacher orientation is scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, Aug. 15 and 16; while all teachers and staff return on Thursday, Aug. 17. Convocation will be held for all faculty and staff on Friday, Aug. 18.
Student and parent orientation will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 22 and Wednesday, Aug. 23.
The first day of school is Monday, Aug. 28.
For more information on Page County Public Schools,