By Taylor Boyd
The Patrick County School Board approved the fiscal year 2022-23 budget at its March 23 meeting, after learning about potential steps to save local monies and the potential impacts of losing funds.
Schools Superintendent Jason Wood said the school board may want to consider to address the issue is changing its enrollment numbers.
To address shortfalls and disagreements about the correct method used for local funds, such as the one in the current budget, and “instead of closing a school and letting go of 55 employees, we could consider upping the enrollment with Virtual Virginia or Stride K12 to make the budget match, so we could participate in the programs that our students deserve,” he said.
“The (school) board could decide to up our enrollment with virtual students, and then that definitely increases the required local effort – the mandatory funding from the state that our appropriation board would have to fund. It may keep up from having to cut programs or layoff people,” he said.
Wood estimated 900 virtual students are needed to balance the 2022-23 budget, if the county does not provide the local match. Stride K12 currently has a waiting list of more than 1,200 students.
The division would receive the same rate from the state for virtual students. “However, we would then receive an invoice because we do not provide their online instruction Stride K12 does. We provide them a portion of that per pupil expense,” he said.
The current required local match is $6.6 million. Wood said upping enrollment would increase the required local effort to $7.1 million.
“There’s no disagreement with that language in the Code of Virginia. That is mandatory funding,” he said.
Where schools are
Wood said the $5.1 million of local funds and $2.5 million in federal monies in the budget help with the shortfall of SOQ (Standard of Quality) positions.
“If you just looked at SOQ teaching positions, we receive funding for 140 of those. However, we have over 200 teachers.” He estimated $3.4 million is needed for the 60 positions.
While the division gets a lot of money from the state, it is not funded appropriately for the number of staff needed to operate the schools.
“So, your tax dollars are being spent on people’s salaries to put in front of students to educate them and make sure they are being taken care of and safe,” he said.
Bus driver positions are not funded with the SOQ positions. “That entire cost of bus drivers’ salaries has to come from other revenue sources, whether it be federal or local dollars,” he said.
The remaining $1.4 million in local funds is appropriated for required local match funds, and used to fund the Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI), at-risk, infrastructure and operations, compensation supplement, and K-3 class size reduction.
The $1.4 million for the required local match programs accounts for the difference between the required local effort and the required local match. The required local effort, which is the locality’s portion of SOQ funds, is $5,143,209. The required local match is $6,606,741, he said and added that the school division has been participating in the same local match programs for about 10 years.
For VPI, the local share is $151,124, and the state triples that and gives $450,724 to the school division. Wood said the division operates its entire pre-k program at a cost of $600,000, “and we have to have that. We serve over 70 students who really need that. Those are the ones who qualify for that VPI program, so they definitely need the services.”
With at-risk, the local share of $448,170 is tripled to $1,336,655 in state funds, for a total of $1,784,825. The at-risk lottery program requires a local share of $142,293. The state share is $424,385.
The local share for infrastructure and operations is $237,957 and the state share is $709,702 for a total of $947,659.
The local share of $226,493 is combined with state funds of $675,512 for the compensation supplement, which “ensures that all employees, not just SOQ funded employees, get a raise. We need to participate in this to ensure that every employee is compensated fairly,” he said.
Wood said the K-3 class size reduction will cost the locality $211,095 and the state triples that investment to contribute $629,586.
“We need that local share of $1.4 million to get the $4.2 million from the state. That $5.6 million of match programs is 16 percent of our total budget. I don’t know what we could do as a school system cutting our budget 16 percent,” he said.
If the required local match from the county is not met
The majority of the division’s cost is in staffing, Wood said. If the VPI program was cut, the division would lose five teachers and five teacher assistants, in addition to not providing service to the more than 70 students.
If the at-risk programming were cut, 30 teachers would be cut, and the division would lose tutoring funds and programs for high-need students.
Wood said the $947,659 schools receive for infrastructure and operations is equivalent to the division’s utilities and fuel costs.
“We’re the largest employer in the county,” he said, adding it costs nearly $700,000 “to keep the lights on. There’s no fluff in our budget. We need these match programs to operate our school system,” he said.
Without it, Wood said only SOQ positions would receive a raise.
Since the K-3 class size reduction money is to keep class sizes for kindergarten through third grade down, “if we lost that money,” he estimated 15 teachers would be cut.
If all of the local match programs are cut, 55 school employees would lose their positions.
Carving 16 percent from the budget would mean radical changes, such as potentially reducing the bus routes currently provided, he said.
“To continue operating schools, just taking out the infrastructure and operations, I need to save $900,000. Our salary for bus drivers is about $900,000,” and law does not require school divisions to provide transportation to school, he said.
Wood said the appropriations board (in this case, the Patrick County Board of Supervisors) are required to consider the school budget within 30 days of it passing, or by May 15.
Potential impact on taxpayers
In meetings with County Administrator Geri Hazelwood, Wood said he was told taxes would have to go up 9-cents just to meet the required local match.
“I know from being at the meeting that they’re only proposing a 5-cents tax increase. I worry, does that mean they’re not going to fund some of our match programs,” he asked.
Wood also is concerned about statements made at the March 14 supervisor meeting about the potential of closing a school.
“I cannot imagine closing a school. Closing a school in Patrick County would close a community, not a school. That’s much more devastating than just talking about students riding buses for over an hour and not having the services they need. I mean, you’re talking about closing a community, and we’re trying to revive our communities and bring business here,” he said.
Wood said a concern is a differing interpretation of the Virginia Code. between school and county officials.
“I’ve spoken to our attorney, and he says there’s legal argument that the appropriation board should and shall meet required local match. There is a legal argument that they shall fund these match programs,” Wood said he was told.
There also is language in the state code indicating that appropriation boards cannot significantly change or alter an approved school board budget. “I feel if we had to lose 16 percent of our budget, that is a significant change,” he said.
Wood also recently spoke with the school board’s attorney, and “we would hate to go in litigation with the board of supervisors to get a ruling on the wording that’s listed in the Code of Virginia,” he said.
“We’re asking for zero dollars above required local match to provide services our students have been receiving for years and that they deserve moving forward,” Wood said, adding school officials also “wouldn’t want to have to up virtual enrollment of students when we’re just asking for the required local minimum.”
The Patrick County School Board approved its fiscal 2022-23 budget. Pictured, (first row – left to right), are Rob Martin, Amy Walker, Schools Superintendent Jason Wood, Ryan Lawson, Sara Leigh Collins (board clerk), Walter Scott and Shannon Harrell. Andrea Cassell, assistant superintendent of instruction, is pictured on second row.
If the required local match programs were to be cut, the school division would lose $5.6 million in funding and 55 employees.