Money woes

Published 12:21 am Friday, January 13, 2012

State budget could result in $6 million gap for Suffolk schools

If Gov. Bob McDonnell’s proposed budget is accepted, Suffolk Public Schools could be looking at a $6 million gap in funding for the 2012-2013 school year, according to school officials.

Wendy Forsman, the schools’ executive director of finance, presented the budget concerns to the School Board at its monthly meeting Thursday.

“We now have a state (funding) problem and a local (funding) problem,” she told the board members.


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Forsman said there are four areas of McDonnell’s budget that will impact Suffolk’s funding: retirement funding, re-benchmarking, federal deduction and remedial summer school.

In his biennial budget, the governor is proposing an increase in retirement funding by 45 percent, which would increase local costs.

“Our locality must find $2.1 million additional to pay to the state retirement on behalf of the employees for the upcoming year,” Forsman said.

Additionally, McDonnell is suggesting a change in the factors that are used to calculate the cost of public education in Virginia.

“There are seven key components in doing this, and two of them are concerns for us,” Forsman said.

McDonnell plans to remove inflation as a factor. Forsman said this is troubling for the school division because it doesn’t account for a 4-percent increase in the Consumer Price Index in the last four years.

“The state would be funding goods and materials at the price that we could purchase items for in 2009, not 2013,” Forsman said.

In re-benchmarking, McDonnell also wants to use federal stimulus funds for schools to relieve some of the state’s obligation.

However, Forsman said, Suffolk Public Schools does not have access to these funds.

Superintendent Deran Whitney told the board none of the school divisions in Virginia can use them because they have already been used up.

Another aspect of the budget that would shift more financial woes on the division is McDonnell’s plans for remedial summer school funding.

The governor is proposing using Standards of Quality funding for remedial summer school instead of lottery funds.

Forsman said this would seem like good news because SOQ funds are guaranteed while lottery monies aren’t, but the governor is also proposing a 32-percent cut in that funding.

As a result, Suffolk’s funds for remedial summer school would decrease by $156,817.

The main concern for many board members was the bottom line of the funding changes.

“We have to cover $6 million in comparison to last year,” Forsman said.

Whitney said if the governor’s budget is accepted and the city cannot offer the schools more funds, the division will have to reevaluate its budget to find the money.

“We’re going to have to look at programs, and we’re going to have to look at people,” he said. “We’re going to have to look at a variety of things.”

Whitney added, “The challenge is we have to stay true to our mission and our goals.”