2010-11-10 / Front Page

Budget shortfall increases for CCPS

By Greg Pearson

Watkins Watkins Projected school funding just shrunk an additional $7 million to $15 million for FY12 (starting July 1, 2011) for Chesterfield County Public Schools (CCPS). State Sen. John Watkins (R- 10th District) is predicting a 3 percent to 5 percent reduction from state and federal sources next year.

That was the headline from last week’s joint meeting of state legislators, county supervisors and school board members. If correct, that means CCPS will have reduced its operational budget by more than a $110 million from FY09 when it was $594.5 million.

“We’re short $100 [million] to $150 million” of the $400 million Virginia was to receive “associated with the [federal] health-care bill, which will increase our caseload of Medicaid significantly…by 10 [percent] to 30 percent,” said Watkins. “The remainder of the shortfall is in lower revenues anticipated for the [state] budget.”

Wyman Wyman Watkins urged CCPS to require new hires to pay the 5 percent toward their own retirement as the county government did last July. The school system could have potentially saved millions of dollars over the coming years had the school board decided not to make the 5 percent contribution to the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) for new employees. For FY11, the savings would have been more than $100,000, based on the school system’s plans to hire 100 new teachers and support staff to fill in employment gaps.

“VRS can’t keep going as it is,” warned Watkins. “…It [passing along VRS costs] has to be done.”

Only six school systems in the state took that approach, said Superintendent Marcus Newsome. CCPS officials worried it would make Chesterfield less competitive in attracting teachers in the region.

Carpenter Carpenter School Board Chairman David Wyman pointed out CCPS employees had their pay and benefits reduced this year, and the average teacher has more students in the classroom now with less support. Referring to VRS, he added, “We’ll keep looking at it.”

The meeting began with county and school leaders stressing the budget reductions and employee layoffs over the past two years. “We believe we have cut ourselves to where we are sustainable,” Board Chairman Dan Gecker told the three state senators and half dozen delegates. “Please don’t cut us anymore.”

Gecker also pitched the state delegation on not eliminating the tax on machinery and tools or eliminating/reducing the tax on business, professional and occupational licenses, affecting as much as $20 million in revenue. “Any more [reductions] will do harm to the fabric of the county,” he said.

County Administrator Jay Stegmaier showed charts of how the county’s budget has been impacted. It is projected it will take until July 2014 for Chesterfield to return to the same revenue level of seven years earlier. Assessments for both residential and commercial properties – the largest single source of tax revenue for the county – continue to decline in value (see story on page 1).

Wyman pledged a better working relationship with the county board on budget matters “and for the same thing with legislators.” He stressed CCPS’ “efficiency” while its schools are “fully accredited.”

A shorter school year? 

One of the possible solutions to balance the budget for the 2011-12 school year is shortening the school year. Chesterfield County Public Schools is already facing $27 million less for the FY12 budget (starting July 1), and State Senator John Watkins (R-Chesterfield) is predicting an additional loss of $7 million to $15 million in state and federal funding.

Asked last week at Midlothian Supervisor Dan Gecker’s community meeting what school cuts are being considered, Midlothian School Board member Patty Carpenter answered “a shorter school year.” Other options include “eliminating 300-400 positions,” reducing salaries, increasing the number of students in classrooms and other cuts considered previously but not enacted for this year’s budget.

On the brighter side, Carpenter said instructional assistants have been added back into this year’s budget for fourth-and fifth-grade classrooms with 30 or more students. “It will be a huge help,” she said.

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