SPS awaits budget figures

Published 10:35 pm Wednesday, December 17, 2014

State budget amendments proposed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Wednesday had some good news for local school districts, but Suffolk Public Schools officials are awaiting details.

In his address to the members of the House and Senate financial committees, McAuliffe proposed using proceeds from the sale of unclaimed stocks and bonds turned over to the state to help localities fund state-mandated teacher retirement costs.

McAuliffe said $150 million would be directed toward the initiative. “This action will save money through reduced future payments for the state as well as localities,” he said.

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McAuliffe also outlined no cuts to K-12 education, nor additional cuts to higher education.

Spokeswoman Bethanne Bradshaw stated that while Suffolk Public Schools is “thrilled” by the prospect of no further cuts to K-12 funding, it was too early to comment on the Virginia Retirement System proposal.

“We cannot comment on the plan until we receive information from VDOE (the Virginia Department of Education) on the exact nature the VRS proposal will take for 2015-2016,” she wrote in an email.

McAuliffe also proposed $713,000 to help train principals in underperforming schools. Those principals and other educators would also benefit from school improvement and curriculum specialists hired by the state.

Other proposals include $573,000 to enhance the school breakfast program, and $75 million from the stock sales would be available for school construction loans and interest rate subsidies on Virginia Public School Authority loans.

Also, districts that deplete their state funding for pre-kindergarten could receive dollars from such funding not spent by other districts.

Among plans outside of education, McAuliffe would boost the Governor’s Development Opportunity Fund, which offers grants to business to locate or expand in Virginia, by almost $21.7 million.

Among other spending measures, he also proposes boosting pay for some sheriff’s deputies and replacing aging voting machines.

Savings measures include filling Virginia State Police vacancies at a slower rate and reducing contractor costs at the Department of Medical Assistance Services. More than 400 strategies would improve efficiencies and reduce taxpayer subsidies, McAuliffe said.

McAuliffe noted that last fiscal year, general fund revenues declined for the first time outside of a national recession, with a shortfall of $438 million. On top of that, an interim forecast in August predicted shortfalls of $2 billion during fiscal years 2015 and 2016.

He thanked Suffolk’s Chris Jones, chairman of the House Appropriations committee, and others for their “prudent bipartisan efforts” that addressed most of the shortfall.

Blaming federal tax policy changes for most of the shortfall, McAuliffe added, “Virginia’s economy was not performing to our accustomed standards.”

That trend continues, he said, citing sequestration cutting federal government-related jobs. “Put simply, Virginia stands at an economic crossroads,” McAuliffe said.