Funding down, but no increase in projected schools budget

“This is quite a turnout; it must be budget season,” remarked Rappahannock County School Board chairman John Lesinski, as superintendent Donna Matthews presented the board with an “informational” 2014-15 budget at its monthly meeting Tuesday night (Jan. 14).

“This is just a projected budget,” Matthews reminded the board and the sizeable crowd in attendance. “We won’t the exact amounts of anything until an official one is released in March.”

The big news, Matthews said, is that Rappahannock will likely receive slightly less federal funding than it did last year — a decrease of $68,793, or .55 percent — thereby decreasing the overall school budget. The other big news: Matthews said she doesn’t plan to ask the county for increased funding, meaning the overall school budget likely won’t increase this year. (The county’s contribution to schools in fiscal year 2014, if it stays the same as last year, would total just over $9 million.)

That $68,000 decrease will come primarily from cuts to state lottery-funded programs, such as special education regional tuition (which is losing $17,520), supplemental basic aid (losing $76,333, or more than a quarter of its funding) and part of the funds that pay for textbooks.

Cuts to other programs include a reduction in the Virginia Preschool Initiative ($6,000), which Matthews said Rappahannock doesn’t participate in, and a nearly 11 percent decrease ($15,508) to special education.

The governor’s preliminary budget does include some proposed increases, Matthews said, including a 113-percent boost to remedial summer school funding — which Rappahannock is offering this summer, Matthews said, happily — as well as raises for other remedial and vocational education, basic aid and more.

The informational budget is Matthews’ first step toward reconciling a decreased school budget with increased school demands, she said. This year’s expected increases include a mandatory 3 percent increase to Virginia Retirement System (VRS) rates and a proposed step increase for the school’s teachers, something Matthews said she’d “very much like to see.”

“So it begins,” remarked Lesinski.

The first official budget work session, at which the school board will start analyzing budget items in more detail, is scheduled for 5 p.m. next Tuesday (Jan. 21) at the school board office, Matthews said. Some ideas for implementing the reduction include departmental budget lines reviews and by attrition (allowing openings created by retirements and resignations to go unfilled).

Matthews said she is currently talking to teachers — and, later this month, all staff — and soliciting their input and ideas for the budget, including if there’s anything they’d like to see implemented. “This is such a guessing game,” Matthews said. “But there are no alarms right now. There’s a way to get to this budget.”

The board reorganizes

The board began its meeting, the first of 2014, by formally electing its officers, and while there were no changes to the officer positions, several of the committees were redesigned to include new Stonewall-Hawthorne representative Larry Grove.

Lesinski of Hampton district remained the chairman, with Aline Johnson of Piedmont retained as vice-chair. Johnson was also appointed the Headwaters representative (with Jackson district’s Amy Hitt as the alternate) and the Piedmont Regional Education Program (PREP) representative (Grove was the alternate).

Hitt and Lesinski were appointed to the budget and finance committee; Hitt and Wakefield district’s Chris Ubben will comprise the facilities committee; and Grove and Johnson were appointed to the strategic planning and policy committee.