Patrick County School Superintendent Jason Wood discussed the potential impact of a miscalculation in school funding from the state during a meeting of the school board last week.
The mistake first came to light on January 27 when school superintendents were alerted via email that the Basic Aid Calculation Tool released in mid-December contained an error. Reports indicated the miscalculation means that VDOE overestimated Basic Aid payments to school divisions by an estimated $201 million during the Fiscal Year 2023 – 2024 biennium, including $58 million in the current budget year.
The miscalculation was due to human error at the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), according to the email.
“We’ve been running with an over projection for this year of about $183,000,” Wood said at the February 9 meeting. “I feel pretty confident based on the conversations we’re hearing from the General Assembly that they’ll correct that situation this year and we’re hoping that they will because we budgeted based on that calc tool for this year.”
Like many school superintendents in Virginia, Wood said he does not know what action legislators may take to address the $450,000 less than originally projected for the fiscal year 2024.
“It’s not that the state doesn’t have the funds,” Wood said. “It’s just that the calculation tool did not remove that grocery tax whole harmless amount from the basic aid.”
The Associated Press (AP) has reported that Gov. Glenn Youngkin asked budget leaders in the House and Senate to include “the necessary resources” in their spending plans to address the error.
Wood said the school division has not yet received the corrected calculation tool.
Wood’s final budget proposal must be presented to the board in March to ensure it is presented to the Patrick County Board of Supervisors before the April 1 deadline.
“I’m having to use old fiscal year data because we’re in the fiscal year 2023, and of course, that is still moving as well,” he said of the budget that includes total revenues of a little more than $67 million.
Wood said he often hears the school division’s budget is “‘half of the whole county’s budget,’ and that’s true if you look at it as whole numbers. But you also have to understand that $28 million of that $67 million comes from the state and must be spent” by the school system.
Local funding for the division represents about 42 percent of the county’s revenue, but portions must be appropriated to the school division due to the Required Local Match (RLM) and Required Local Effort (RLE).
Considering local revenue without the state and federal school funds, the school division makes up about 17 percent of the county’s remaining budget, he said.
“We are not the largest tax burden,” Wood said. “We’re not half of the tax burden on the county, we’re 17 percent of it.”
The state average is 54 percent of a locality’s total budget, he said, “and our locality puts up 17 percent. The amount of state dollars that come to a locality on average is 39 percent, and Patrick County gets about 72 percent to fund our schools for state dollars.”
That is because the state provides more funds to rural localities based on a calculation tool and a composite index that also is generated by the state, and Wood noted the nearly $34 million operating budget for the fiscal year 2023 included about $6 million in ESSER funds.
“So, 72 percent of that was state dollars, 19 percent of that is from the locality, eight percent is federal dollars, and one percent is other,” he said. “Truly, the only thing we can manipulate in our calculation tool is our enrollment. Everything else is just population for us to give us the” RLM and RLE.
Wood said when the school system says it needs $6.6 million to operate the schools, that’s mandated by the state.
“That’s the minimum for SOQ (Standards of Quality) positions and required Local Effort, and also to unlock all the other incentive funds for the Required Local Match dollars,” he said, adding there is not a lot of flexibility in how the system spends its fund when it just gets the minimum.
Wood said there are several federal dollars the system can’t cut.
“We have to certify that we spend this much in 2019, we got to spend that much or even more in 2020, and spend that much or more in 2021. So, there’s a lot of maintenance of effort that we cannot change the way in which we spend money,” he said.
Wood said there are several match programs the division needs to participate in, which is about $1.6 million in local funds.
“Because our composite index is about 25 percent, then every dollar we put in the state triples it. So, we put in $100,000 the state will give us $300,000, and now we have $400,000 to fund our school system better,” he said.
In other matters, the board:
*Approved the personnel report as amended.
*Heard the superintendent’s report.
*Approved the consent agenda.
*Recognized February as school board appreciation month.
*Recognized School Board Clerk Appreciation Week this month.
*Heard an update on the ESSER grants.
*Heard an update on the 1 percent sales tax project list.
*Authorized Wood to enter a lease agreement and Memorandum of Understanding with Milestone Towers for the potential installation of a combination athletic field light and cellphone tower at Patrick County High School (PCHS).
*Upheld Wood’s decision in a student discipline case.
*Approved adding a Massey Ferguson model 250 diesel tractor 2-wheel drive to the surplus sale.
*Heard an update from Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Andrea Cassell about the reading curriculum.
*Approved the 2023-2024 school calendar.