By Debbie Hall and Taylor Boyd
The Patrick County Board of Supervisors took up a school funding issue at a March 14 meeting when considering how to give both the amount requested for the fiscal 2022-23, and an estimated budget shortfall of about $500,000 in the current fiscal year.
Schools Superintendent Jason Wood recently alerted the Patrick County School Board that the division was set to experience an estimated $500,000 revenue shortfall in the current fiscal year. The issue came to his attention, he said, while he was working to finalize the FY22-23 budget proposal.
The shortfall occurred because the school division was underfunded last year by about $500,000. It requested more than $5.7 million from the county in local match funds last year, but received a little more than $5.2 million.
Now, the division needs either $512,000 or $492,000 to fund its programs for the remainder of this fiscal year – which ends June 30 – and to meet the required local match, he said.
Wood explained the discrepancy in the amount still needed is because of differences in state budget proposals. The division is using former Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposal, which is a mid-point between the Senate and House versions, he added.
Typically, the method used to calculate the amount of support a locality is required to give its school division depends on whether certain programs are offered in schools, Wood said of offerings like the Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI).
Local, rural school divisions receive state funds for offering those certain programs, he said, adding that in the current fiscal year, the division has offered many of those programs.
When filing the associated regular reports to certify how funds are being spent, Wood said he receives a warning notification from the state, alerting him “to talk to your appropriations board,” which in this case is the county.
Wood said he discussed the issue during a recent meeting with County Administrator Geri Hazelwood.
The school division “was urged to certify” to the state that it did not participate in some of the programs that it received state funds for this year, Wood said.
“They were hoping that perhaps we could recertify our participation in local match programs to save the county that $500,000. However, if the school board directed me to do that, we could lose between $1.8 to $2 million” in state funding between now and June 30, he said, and explained that is because the division has participated in those programs previously. The division also has received funds from the state that are earmarked for those programs.
“The state’s already been paying us their contribution for every month. We would not have to pay it back, but we would not get that amount between now and June 30,” he said. The state “would just stop funding us that amount between now and June. We would be operating with that deficit. I don’t know what programs we would have to cut,” he said.
Still, Wood said he called the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) “to see if I could (opt out), and yes, I can.”
In addition to VPI, there are four other programs the division could elect to not participate in – at-risk, infrastructure and operations, compensation supplement, and K-3 class size reduction. If the division opted out of the VPI, for example, the savings to the county would be an estimated $135,000. But the state provides $415,000 to the division to operate the program, Wood said.
“The at-risk program costs our locality around $300,000. The state turns around and gives us $921,000,” he said, adding that the graph was essentially stated“triples our investment so that we can provide the services we need for our students.”
Additionally, to offer all the programs it needs and wants to offer students, the division needs to participate in all of the local match programs, even though doing so “becomes an additional burden on our locality,” Wood said. “But again, we are asking for the minimum. Nothing more than the required local match.”
It also would not be true, because the division has offered those programs.
The school board directed Wood to continue working with Hazelwood to get local matching funds for the programs that Dean Gilbert, former schools superintendent, certified in the current budget year and to participate in all local match programs listed for the 2022-23 school year.
“I’m thankful the school board directed me” to continue certifying those programs, Wood said.
In advance of the March 14 meeting, Hazelwood wrote in a statement that “the administration is working diligently with the schools to try to determine if the county is required for the extra funding being requested and how the county would fund said request.”
If it does not, the county will be out of compliance, and it will be required to pay those funds to the state, Wood said. “That has never happened before in Virginia. This would be a first.”