School Board sets hearing on proposed budget

MILFORD – The Caroline County School Board will hold a public hearing in March on the school division’s proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Superintendent Greg Killough is expected to unveil a proposed budget that would require increasing county funds from $11.2 million in the current school budget to $13.9 million in the next budget – an increase of $2.7 million.

Killough and the School Board have held preliminary discussions in recent months about next year’s budget. In addition, School Board chairman Nancy Carson and vice chairman George Spaulding have been meeting with two members of the Board of Supervisors, Wayne Acors and Floyd Thomas, who served as chairman and vice chairman, respectively, in  2012. Some of those meetings also have included Killough and County Administrator Charles Culley.

The School Board endorsed Killough’s recommendation for $2.7 million in additional spending at its December session.

Killough offered to all but eviscerate his recommended budget during the School Board’s regular meeting on Jan. 14. He recommended trimming the requested increase to $1.8 million, a figure that would only cover raises for school division employees, higher health insurance costs of $443,540, four new teaching positions, and two more bus drivers.

He offered to scrap his earlier recommendation for an additional $208,100 for technology and software, $142,737 for supplies and materials, $80,000 for textbooks, $69,265 for equipment, and $15,000 for staff development.

The School Board stood firm on the figure it tentatively endorsed in December, however. That package includes a 4 percent pay raise for school division employees that would cost $1.1 million.

The public hearing on Killough’s proposed budget will be held at a special meeting of the School Board at 6 p.m. March 4 at Caroline Middle School. The School Board is scheduled to vote for preliminary approval of the spending plan that evening, and school officials are expected to brief the Board of Supervisors on their request later. The Board of Supervisors ultimately will decide how much county funds to appropriate for the school division.

In materials and remarks provided to the School Board at its meeting earlier this month, Killough and school division finance director Lifen Zhou said that, based on the biennial budget amendments proposed by Gov. Bob McDonnell now before the General Assembly, the school division expects an additional $682,000 in state aid next fiscal year; of that amount, $270,000 is for increased enrollment and $280,000 is for specialized programs in McDonnell’s budget. The amount is subject to change and depends on the action of the legislature.

In addition, the school division is expecting a reduction of about $34,986 in federal funds as well as no more federal stimulus funds, which account for nearly $1 million in the current budget. Also, cuts in federal spending that yet may be imposed under sequestration – automatic budget cuts aimed at paying down the federal deficit – could reduce federal aid to Caroline schools in the order of $160-170,000, according to Killough.

Killough offered to trim his recommendation further, suggesting he was trying to close the gap with what the school division can expect to be appropriated by the Board of Supervisors.

School Board member Mack Wright Jr. opposed reducing Killough’s recommendation any further. “It’s our duty as the board to put forward what we need for the education of the children,” Wright said in a budget work session that preceded the board’s regular meeting.

Wright reiterated his support for Killough’s December recommendation later during the board’s regular session. “If you don’t ask for it, you’ll never get it,” he said.

“I agree with you, Mack,” said School Board member George Spaulding, who hinted that, based on the discussions with Acors and Thomas, that the Board of Supervisors likely will reduce the school division’s proposed budget request. A year ago the supervisors cut $350,000 in county funding for public schools.

“To have a good school system, you’re going to have more money,” said Wright.

Caroline has become a “training zone” for people employed in the school system and county government, said Wright. They begin their careers working in Caroline, gain more experience and skills, then move on to higher-paying jobs in other localities. “You can’t blame anybody,” he added. “It’s simple economics”

The School Board voted 6-0 again to endorse the recommendation that Killough made in December.

Killough already made significant reductions in the budget requests initially made by department heads; those requests totaled $4.5 million.

Caroline County Public Schools is ranked near the bottom in terms of per-pupil expenditures in recent years compared to other school divisions in Virginia. For fiscal year 2010 Caroline’s per-pupil spending was $8,838 – 126 of 132 public school divisions; in fiscal year 2011 the figure was $8,611 – 129.

Caroline also is ranked low in terms of local funding for schools that is above the amount required by the state. Using that as a measure, Caroline was ranked at 121 of 136 school systems in fiscal year 2010 and 113 of 135 in fiscal year 2011.

Posted on Monday, January 28, 2013 at 3:08 pm