By Taylor Boyd
School board members are coming up empty handed as they are forced to look for budget cuts while the division’s request for $500,000 in local funds is being debated.
Schools Superintendent Jason Wood said the budget shortfall occurred because the school division was underfunded last year by about $500,000. It requested more than $5.7 million in local match funds from the county, but received a little more than $5.2 million.
Depending on the state budget that is eventually passed, the division needs either $512,000 or $492,000 to fund its program for the remainder of the year.
Ryan Lawson, board chairman, said there is no way the school board could cut anything to make up for that amount of money within the remainder of the school year. “It only gives us three months to trim that kind of money and there’s nowhere to trim it from at this point,” he said.
The school division is past the point of no return of operating smoothly without that money, he added.
“You’re potentially looking at not making payroll. You’re looking at not being able to pay basic utility bills at this point if you start trying to trim that kind of money in three months’ time,” said Lawson, of the Peters Creek District.
In a worst case scenario, Walter Scott, said there is no way to make an up to $2 million cut.
“There is nothing we can cut to take that kind of money out of the budget without laying people off and cutting just the education all together,” he said.
Scott, of the Smith River District, said schools in adjacent localities receive more local funds than those in Patrick County. For example, Floyd County gives $2 million above required local match, and Henry County gives $4 million more than the amount mandated.
“Overall, all around us, each county pretty much that I’m aware of gives more than the required local match,” Scott said. “We’re not asking for more than that. All we’re asking for is the required local match.”
Amy Walker, of the Mayo River District, said she also does not know where cuts could be made.
“We built our budget based on state mandates. We try to provide the best we can, and all we can, for our kids. We’ve had such a learning loss with COVID. We want to get our kids back up to where they used to be so they can be successful students,” she said.
“I would love to be able to offer more programs than we do to our kids. We have wonderful teachers and staff” and they have “great ideas that we don’t even investigate because we know it’s not affordable,” Walker said.
Rob Martin, of the Dan River District, said he does not know what he would support cutting from the budget between now and June.
“Let’s get to that point first. I’m hoping that the intelligent minds can work this situation out and we don’t even have to contemplate that situation,” he said.
Shannon Harrell, of the Blue Ridge District, did not return a call for comment.