Chesterfield School Board will review budget reduction proposals

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The Chesterfield County School Board will review staff proposals to close a $23.3 million funding gap that now exists in the Board’s approved Fiscal Year 2021 operating budget based on reductions in funding recently announced by state and local governments.

The School Board will host a virtual work session on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. to discuss potential reductions to the budget that will support school division operations during the 2021-22 school year. The work session will take place electronically in accordance with the Continuity of County Government Ordinance adopted by the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors on March 25, 2020 and confirmed by the School Board on April 14, 2020. Citizens can access the electronic work session in the same manner as regular in-person board meetings: http://chesterfieldschoolsva.swagit.com/live/ (live stream) and via Comcast Channel 28 and Verizon Channel 98 (broadcast).

Reductions in funding to the School Board budget first approved in March will result in an operating budget of $703.7 million, which is still approximately $26 million more than the operating budget that supports the 2019-20 school year.

“We appreciate the work of our local and state elected officials, who have tried hard to preserve funding for education during this uncertain time,” Superintendent Dr. Merv Daugherty said. “We will continue to work with leaders at the local and state level to monitor revenue forecasts, understanding that more adjustments to our operating budget could be necessary in the coming months.”

The overall increase in funding from FY 20 to FY 21 would still allow the school division to work to accommodate projected student enrollment growth for the 2020-21 school year. This is projected to cost $8 million.

Other FY 20 to FY 21 changes that remain in the new proposal include meeting the state’s required contribution to the Virginia Retirement System, supporting employees through projected health-care cost increases, contract-required increases to the third-party custodial contract, additional funds to fulfill debt service requirements and support for preventative maintenance in school buildings.

The reduction in state and local funding, though, will result in the likely elimination of the 2 percent salary increase proposed for all employees, a reduction that is likely to happen throughout the region.

“The amended budget proposal includes many items that are non-discretionary in nature, meaning that we have to pay these ‘bills,’ ” Dr. Daugherty said. “While we would love to be able to support an increase in compensation for all of our outstanding employees, there are not funds available to support that $8.5 million increase, especially during a time of high unemployment.

“We remain hopeful that the revenue picture will quickly improve as COVID 19-related restrictions are eased, and that elected officials eventually will be able to address the teacher pay crisis specifically. Among the many things that this pandemic has reaffirmed to our country is the critically important role that our teachers play in our society. Tasked with helping educate their own children at home during this time, our families and community likely recognize the value of teachers now more than ever.”

The reduction in state and local funding in the FY 21 budget also will eliminate support for the hiring of additional school counselors and teachers for English language learners, as well as funding to support at- risk students/schools and pre-kindergarten opportunities.

Deferred in the state budget were the additional school counseling positions already approved by the School Board. Understanding the increased need for social-emotional learning during this difficult time, the school division will consider using federal CARES funding to support these positions during the 2020-21 school year.

Among the proposed reductions to the School Board’s operating budget approved in March are:

Changes to base budget

  • $1 million: Defer a portion of the bus replacement cycle
  • $956,000: Centralized support
  • $802,000: Reduced health-care costs
  • $700,000: Operational expenses
  • $451,000: Risk management expenses
  • $252,000: Reduction in transportation fuel and maintenance costs
  • $155,000: Legal services

Deferred to a future budget

  • $8.4 million: Compensation increases for all staff
  • $3.4 million: School-based funding allocation
  • $2.95 million: Additional ESL teacher positions
  • $1.5 million: Differentiated staffing
  • $846,000: Compensation increases for bus drivers
  • $210,000: Reduction in school administration positions

The May 5 School Board presentation is available for review at https://go.boarddocs.com/vsba/chesterfield/Board.nsf/Public. The School Board is scheduled to adopt an amended FY 21 budget at its May 12 meeting.

FY 2020 closeout

With sales tax revenue forecasts lowered from March-June 2020, Chesterfield County Public Schools has taken steps to reduce operational costs to ensure expenditures are in line with revenue forecasts.

The school division has furloughed temporary and substitute personnel, implemented a hiring freeze for all non-essential positions, temporarily suspended third-party custodial operations, eliminated overtime, realized fuel and energy savings and restricted travel.