Schools forecast deficit

Published 10:05 pm Friday, January 11, 2013

Suffolk’s school district is predicting a 2013-2014 budget deficit of $3 million to $8 million, with the final shortfall partly contingent on how much additional money the General Assembly approves and how administrators use it.

District Finance Director Wendy Forsman delivered the news at Thursday’s School Board meeting, explaining that additional state funding of $744,532 would be available to raise teacher salaries by 2 percent.

A percentage of the raise, proposed in Gov. Bob McDonnell’s Educator Fairness Act, which would also tie tenure to performance evaluations, would need to be met by the district, however, if it opted to use the commonwealth money.

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A 2-percent raise for all staff would cost $1.4 million, Forsman said, leaving the district to fund $655,468.

“We are not looking at a bunch of new money,” she said. “We would have to come up with the difference. If it does pass, we can apply to get it or we can refuse it.”

Under the proposed legislation’s current form, the state would only partially fund the raise for one year, Forsman said.

Earlier in the day, Forsman presented board members a plan to boost pay for teachers in their seventh, eighth and ninth years with the district. Whether the proposal is adopted would also affect the forthcoming budget’s bottom line.

Comparing the 15 Region II school districts, Suffolk’s ranking would climb at least three places, and five places for teachers in their ninth year, who have eight years’ experience.

The proposal, estimated to cost $930,478, is in response to growing concerns about teachers leaving Suffolk for better-paying nearby districts.

“It gets too expensive to try to do something with every single step on the scale,” Forsman said. “It makes for some tricky mathematics.”

The finance director cited other looming costs that will weigh on the budget’s final outcome, such as increases in property insurance, utilities, health insurance and worker’s compensation, slated to cost $7.6 million.

“We have already begun getting bills for the new health care reform act,” she said. “They are changing these laws it seems like very day.”

The final form of the budget remains unpredictable, Forsman cautioned. “That seems like a big range, but there are a lot of variables out there,” she said.

Insurers are bidding on the district’s health and dental package, she said.

Forsman also pondered on how much the city would contribute after it allocated to the current budget $2 million more than the $3 million increase from last year’s funding already recommended.

The 2013-14 deficit would be at the “lower end” with similar support from the city, and “at the higher end if they don’t,” Forsman said.