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‘Doomsday budget’

RICHMOND — State budget cuts could force Virginia school districts to adopt a “doomsday budget” that would require laying off teachers and staff, increasing student-teacher ratios, eliminating summer school and taking other drastic measures, the Virginia Association of School Superintendents warned Tuesday.

“If the term ‘doomsday budget’ sets off an alarm — good. It is time to be alarmed,” said Milton Liverman, president of VASS and superintendent of Suffolk City Public Schools.

“We want to come together as a group of superintendents, because we feel it is important for everybody to know that we are all dealing with the same issues. We’re all concerned about the same negative impact that this General Assembly session could have on the progress that we have made in public education; and we have made tremendous progress.”

A recent survey of Virginia school superintendents by VASS found that:

Nearly 50 percent are considering some form of salary reduction, and at least 46 percent are considering cutting incentive programs.

89 percent are considering increasing pupil-teacher ratios, and 91 percent are considering cutting teacher positions.

Half of the respondents are considering budget cuts in programs such as summer school remediation, assistance for at-risk students and education for 4-year-olds.

Liverman said the “support staff ratio cap” is one of the main targets of budget reductions. More than $750 million in cuts are in the state budget proposed by then-Gov. Tim Kaine, who left office Saturday. The reduction could increase because the new governor, Bob McDonnell, has rejected tax increases recommended by Kaine.

“This is not a year where we are going to be asking for increases … we’re saying don’t do those cuts in a one-size-fits-all method,” Liverman said. “Give local school districts flexibility and some relief from the unfunded mandates.”

Philip Worrell, VASS secretary/treasurer and superintendent of the Greensville/Emporia County schools, said that clerical staff in schools might expect to be laid off. Teachers and guidance counselors would pick up the duties left behind.

VASS is asking that recent mandates be delayed until the state has the money to support them. If implemented now, the mandates would have a “serious negative impact on morale, which can only negatively affect student performance.”

“If these mandates are implemented at a time when state funding is being reduced, we will find fewer schools fully accredited in the future,” Worrell said.

Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Suffolk, said the contemplated cuts are the “absolute worst” she has ever seen while in office.

“Many of us are just so aggrieved how deep the cuts have been with our local schools and … have resolved to do whatever we can to try to get some of that funding restored,” Lucas said.

Delegate Lionell Spruill Sr., D-Suffolk, agreed that the education budget cuts are drastic: “The law requires that we have a balanced budget … and we are talking about education cuts that should not be made.”

Alan Lee, VASS president-elect and superintendent of Washington County schools, discussed issues with the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

“The federal government does not have the authority to standardize all 50 accountability systems, nor can it closely monitor all the programs for quality,” Lee said.

Eric Williams, superintendent of York County schools, said local school districts are being squeezed by both federal and state authorities.

“The cuts that we’re facing definitely will affect teaching and learning [and] support that schools and students receive and ultimately will affect student achievement as well,” Williams said.

“With the increasing No Child Left Behind expectations and the shrinking resources we have, schools that are at risk of not making adequate yearly progress.”