There is no easy fix

Published 1:37 pm Saturday, April 20, 2013

By Dr. Michael Debranski

The legal and political mechanism for funding public education in Virginia is vigorous. Under Virginia law, the school superintendent is charged with the responsibility to prepare, with the approval of the School Board, an estimate of money “needed” during the next fiscal year for public schools and submit that estimate to the local governing body.

The budget prepared by the school superintendent and approved by the School Board is based on the educational needs of the school division and not the funding capability of the local governing body.

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On the local government side of the equation, the city manager is to submit to City Council a proposed annual budget, which includes an amount recommended for the public schools. After receiving the city manager’s proposed annual budget, City Council must then prepare and approve a budget for information and fiscal planning purposes.

The fiscal budget must contain a complete itemized and classified plan for all contemplated expenditures and all estimated revenues and borrowings for the ensuing fiscal year. The approved budget must also include an allocation for public schools.

Since local school boards in Virginia do not have taxing authority, funding for public schools comes from federal, state and local governments. But in addition to funding public schools, local governments must fund myriad public needs and services as well, resulting in tough choices because there are often more needs than resources.

This is the funding mechanism, and neither the School Board nor City Council should be maligned for their engagement.

At the most recent public hearing some criticized the School Board and school superintendent for submitting a request for $9 million in additional local funding; however, this is what the School Board and school superintendent honestly believe is needed for public schools.

Others criticized the City Council and city manager for being unwilling to provide more financial support to the school division; however, there are many city needs and services that must be funded as well as education.

And then there were still others who were critical of the fact we have to engage in this political discourse at all.

The truth of the matter is that we will always be at this point, as long as the financial needs of the school division are greater than available revenue and there are competing interests all seeking funding. There is no easy fix and we should not expect one.

Each year, the political process is called upon to do its job, which is to allocate limited resources for the public good. The only thing any of us should expect is that the process be open, honest and fair to all, especially when it comes to the most vulnerable citizens of the City of Suffolk, our children.

Dr. Michael Debranski is the chairman of the Suffolk School Board. Email him at