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Budget or bust: Schools run risk of $1M giveback

SoVaNow.com / March 21, 2019
Halifax County supervisors and school officials struck conciliatory notes but made no decisions about a school budget that remains out of whack and is at risk of losing $1 million in state funding intended for teacher pay raises.

The potential for a budgetary doomsday scenario — “We don’t want to do that and we’re going to do what it takes not to do that,” said Board Chairman Dennis Witt of the prospect of losing the million dollar supplement from the state — hung over a Board of Supervisors work session on Monday night. The work session came immediately after a public hearing on the overall county budget in which a handful of citizens spoke.

School Board Chairman Joe Gasperini, who addressed supervisors both during the public hearing and work session portions of Monday’s meeting, said the school division is in “rough shape” with its budget, which currently lacks the money to provide teachers with a 3 percent salary increase and step pay hike, and a 4 percent raise for support personnel.

The problem, however, could become much worse if the School Board can’t come up with funding for some raise for teachers — enough to meet the state’s mandate of a 5 percent minimum for teachers over the two-year budget biennium.

In the current budget year, teachers received approximately a 3.4 percent pay hike, after factoring in the impact of changes to the teacher step pay scale to compress the number of steps — from more than 40 to 28.

The elongated scale was the result of teachers going for years without salary hikes as the state struggled with its budget in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Superintendent of Schools Mark Lineburg said it would take years — perhaps a decade — to gradually bring up teacher pay in Halifax County to where it ought to be.

“If we can see that through, we can get really competitive with folks in a few years,” said Lineburg.

By granting teachers 3 percent increase in salary and a step pay raise, Halifax will bring up their compensation by more than 7 percent, overall, over the two-year biennium. School officials also say they want to give a 4 percent pay hike in the coming year to support staff — secretaries, custodians, bus drivers and others — for equity reasons and to be competitive with surrounding divisions.

Those plans would more than satisfy the state’s requirement of a two-year, 5 percent teacher pay increase. But, said Gasperini, the School Board doesn’t have enough money in its budget to provide the raises.

That’s because, while Halifax is receiving $1 million in state funding for higher teacher pay, it is also losing $1 million due to a shrinking student population. Overall funding state is set to rise by $13,108.

Halifax County Public Schools has 909 employees, roughly two-thirds of them in the instructional category — employees who are included in the state requirement for 5 percent raises.

“The state gave us level funding,” said Gasperini. “If we’re not able to give a 3 percent raise [to teachers] the state will take back that $1 million.

“When the state cuts us, we need more money from the community.”

Lineburg estimated the School Board needs to come up with about $822,000 in additional funding to deliver on its plans for higher employee compensation, plus provide a $100,000 boost in major maintenance. However, those numbers were developed on the assumption that the Board of Supervisors would maintain the current level of local education funding.

Instead, the draft $95.6 million county budget calls for a $425,077 reduction in local school spending.

“We’re really talking about [a] $1.2 million [deficit],” said Gasperini.

Lineburg added that the major cause of the school budget dilemma — declining enrollment and accompanying loss of per-pupil state aid — is not a problem unique to Halifax County Public Schools.

“It’s the biggest issue in our county. It’s population loss, not enrollment loss, and I think the best way we can deal with that is by improving our schools,” Lineburg said.

That thinking has animated the School Board’s wish to build a new high school rather than renovate the old facility. Lineburg said plans for a new HCHS go beyond a new building: “It’s to make it so exciting and career-oriented that people are coming to our schools.

“We’re tired of being dictated to by the test,” he said — adding that a new building fits with programmatic changes that will include students taking English side-by-side with auto mechanics or building trades classes.

“Shakespeare is important, but they’ll be doing technical reading and writing” in English class, Lineburg explained, rather than go by the standard curriculum.

“We’re close to developing some things,” he continued, “that look different.”

Supervisors expressed words of support — “I applaud what you’re saying as far as enhancing the curriculum,” said J.T. Davis — but also uncertainty about what comes next.

“$1.2 million is a pretty heavy lift,” said Witt of the school budget shortfall. “I’ve got to be honest about that.”

William Bryant Claiborne said he was troubled by the idea that the School Board’s budget woes could become even worse if the division forfeits the million-dollar state supplement for teacher pay.

“You never want to give money back. We may need to come up with a remedy for that,” he said.

The budget conundrum also is unfolding against a backdrop of the county’s plans to do something about the tattered HCHS building — with the School Board supporting a new, $99 million facility, and supervisors hiring their own architectural firm to review and analyze the plans for the high school by Moseley Architects, which the School Board retained.

“We need to do that to let citizens know that we’ve done our homework,” said Witt.

But, for the purposes of Monday’s work session, “our focus tonight is on the operating budget for next year.”

In the draft county budget developed by supervisors, overall spending on the schools is capped at $58.7 million — slightly higher than the current school budget of $58.6 million.

The upcoming school and county budgets must be approved by the start of the 2019-2020 fiscal year, beginning July 1. On Monday night, supervisors took no action on the draft budget, carrying the discussion over into April.



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Comments

Teachers get paid well for what they do. They work 10 months on a 200 day contract and get weeks off for Christmas, a spring break, 3 days for thanksgiving. That is more than anyone in the private sector does. My wife has a masters and works in accounting and does not make much more than a teacher in this area and she has to work all year around with a two week vacation. They should be happy they have a job.

Comments

I normally agree on most things with ya allpolitical2, like that the HCHS should indeed be renovated instead of replaced. BUT i have to say you are wrong on the total number of hours and months a teacher has to work. What is NOT documented is the demands on teachers, they spend personal monies toward their classroom setups, they work exhausting hours grading papers and attending after hours events like spring and fall festival which seek to raise money for their school, attending games and such. These are things NOT in their contract but expected of them each and every day. Teachers are what make or break an education NOT the building. With that being said, Central Office and Administrators make WAY more and that's where the fluff is in this school system, its simply too top heavy. Cuts need to be made of the higher ups and use that pay to fund teachers pay increases.

Comments

No is going to move to Halifax County just so their kids can attend your brand new school. That is such a ridiculous statement. People will come to Halifax if there were good jobs. But that will never happen because with good companies come smart people, and those in charge would not want that, because some one may just figure them out. A student today can learn more from online courses than what is taught in school and not have to put up with the drama that comes from kids that are raised in low income households. Every day it is something written about monies needed for something. I guess everyone will start walking to the ER now. And what happens? They worry about the courthouse and things that have no impact on the people's future. Most of the people I know could not care less about that courthouse. The majority of the people that have been there do not carry fond memories of their visit. People get dumber every day. That is the only thing that I see going on in Halifax County.

Comments

“$1.2 million is a pretty heavy lift!” Dennis Witt Mr. Witt that is a “cop out”!!
As Chairman, you and your colleagues need to step up to the plate!! You know you all are playing word/number games with the public!! It is a big “cop out” plain and simple!!!

Comments

Compared to the private sector don't work as hard & are compensated well They make more than deputy sheriff or paramedic.You want someone pushing drugs into you incompetently Many ways to save money. One is for every citizen to force the General Assembly to cut SOL testing! According to one study it cost the Commonwealth 34 million a year for SOL test. Divide that among the school districts and you have your funds. Anyone will say that SOL are not doing that. I agree that cuts need to be made in admin. A supt making over 100k is way too much for Halifax. Hire local. If they pass this 2cent tax increase we need to make sure that the sales tax is shot down. I am also sure that other county departments could cut their budgets as well. I remember doing a budget when I was in the air force. Most of the time the cut was from the expected raise in the budget we were getting not actually cutting the budget. Most people don't understand how shady the budget process in government is.

Comments

yep. govt budgeting is a shady biz. they always increase the budget and are not incentivized for saving money. If they save money its taken away and thrown at bs stuff and or they lose that amount next year. This is always why the budgets increase year over year. They have to keep asking for more. Its grossly distorrted while teacher pay continues to fall. Let's take the IDA funds and utilize for teachers pay increase. We can force BOS to do this by holding a referendum or boycotting our property tax payments this year. IF we all got together by witholding our property tax payments we could stop this good ol boy network asap.
Lets withold our property tax payments end of this year - put it in escrow and with hold until the BOS gets back in line with what their constituents want. thoughts?? Call it WITHHOLD in 2020

Comments

Increases every year I totally agree with you. But the law is rigged where we would have to pay a 10% penalty. But I am in. I am sick to death of having to rent my property every year. I also can't understand people's desire to make government larger. What needs to happen is we go back to the government of our founders envisioned.

Comments

I am in favor of the new building and for teacher raises. I wonder if the school division has looked at doing away with all of the DE courses or require families to pay for those credits. Why should the school system and tax payers be on the hook for students to get an Associates degree?

Comments

Wow, Clouded, you are ready to spend $100,000,000 that this county will never have but ready to cut back the school programs for the children, I don’t understand. The $1000,000,000 building will not impress anyone or teach the children a thing. If you give raises we can’t afford the building too!!

Comments

Wow...I am not taking anything away from the students. The county can require families to pay for the DE courses or they can offer the same courses as AP classes and if students pass the AP exam with a high enough score, they can earn college credit. AP courses also do not require teachers to have the same credentials that are required by the community colleges for DE credit. And I emphatically disagree with your comment about a new building not impressing anyone or teaching children a thing. Statistics prove that businesses look to relocate or build where schools thrive and education is a priority. Additionally a new building will bring better labs, a more conducive learning environment, updated technology, and new CTE areas...all of which are becoming requirements in education AND being asked for by businesses.

Comments

There is a school in Danville that is located in the old Sears building that was donated to the city. I has national honors and is one of the top schools in the state of VA. It has quality teachers and quality classes. Offered are honors and Governors school classes, and you can get college courses out of the way. BTW, it appears that businesses are knocking down the doors to get into Halifax County since Cluster Springs was built. Businesses wont even come here after this county took the tobacco money and built all of these shell buildings along with restoring the old Daystrom building. We need leadership from our county leaders not new buildings.


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