School Board trims budget due as revenues fall short

Published 4:03 pm Tuesday, May 16, 2023

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Suffolk School Board worked to trim expenses from its proposed budget for 2023-2024 after the city and the state revenues fell short of expectations.

At its Thursday, May 11 meeting, district Chief Financial Officer Wendy Forsman detailed the changes going into the 2023-2024 budget.

“As we talk about the budget this year, it has been very complicated, so if you’re confused, you’re not alone,” Forsman said as she opened the presentation.

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She said the superintendent proposed the budget and the School Board’s approval came ahead of the April 1 deadline. 

After that point, Forsman explained the General Assembly passed a “skinny” budget March 23 because the full version offered by the governor wasn’t signed into law. The “final” calculation tool for the skinny budget was then provided from the Virginia Department of Education April 7. 

Next, City Council then voted May 3 to appropriate $2 million less than what Suffolk Public Schools had requested,” she said. 

“So this means that we have to adjust our budget in order to get to a balanced budget,” Forsman explained.

She said the state reduced the revenue in its skinny budget by $835,787. Of that amount, she noted that $560,966 is in a revenue line titled “bonus.” 

“Part of the skinny budget was [that] they did not pass the governor’s proposed bonus of 1%,” Forsman said. “So that’s not in the budget that’s currently signed into law called the ‘skinny’ budget. So we had to remove that $560,966. They also made some changes within other lines of the state budget, to the tune of $274,821, which equals that $835,787.”

She said the district’s budget had to be changed to reflect $835,000 less coming from the state.

“We had to reduce the city revenue by $2 million. So that’s $2,835,787 of revenue that we will not receive. So we have to go into the budget and reduce expenses in order to balance it,” Forsman said.

The total reduction in expenses remaining is listed as $1,692,347. 

Recommended changes included reducing the athletic trainers purchased services by $109,985, along with eliminating one instructional technology resource teacher and one technology technician position for a total of $114,597. 

Ten teacher assistants also were listed for elimination for $356,290 in her report to balance the budget. Also, 28 of the S3 (Safety, Security and Support) positions that were listed on the proposed budget were recommended for elimination at $995,980. Lastly, bus driver raises were listed to be reduced to $18/hour, or 17% raise, to cut another $115,495.

The total reduced expenses results in $1,692,347.

The new 2023-2024 budget total for adoption is listed for $224,000,665, a 3.83% decrease from the current year.

Following the presentation, School Board member Kimberly Slingluff addressed the loss of S3 positions.

“I find it very difficult to accept that the S3 positions are on the chopping block,” Slingluff said. “I know that I don’t understand the finances well enough to be able to find out where we can make up that $8-900,000 difference, but when this budget came out, that was one of the key factors for both the teachers and for safety in the schools, alleviating some of the weights of the teachers… and I feel that it’s devastating to pull this out of this budget.”

When asked where she would “take it from” by Chairman Tyron Riddick, Slingluff replied that she did not have that exact answer and asked if they would return if the city would increase the budget.

“What I would like to know if the city does in fact increase our budget, are those positions going to be added back in. Will they be the first things added back into this budget,” Slingluff asked.

Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III replied that S3 positions were the “main reason” they were “adamant” on getting support from the city.

“The challenge that we now have depending on if the General Assembly comes back in at the end of June, and even from communication that Vice Chair [Heather] Howell had with the Mayor, nothing will potentially be able to be done by the city until the middle of July at the earliest, and this means that we would have to then post the position and try to hire by teacher work week so we will only have one month,” Gordon explained. “So what we are doing is we are watching to determine if there are any other options that we may have available with some of the federal money, but it’s just too early to tell. Every communication that Ms. Forsman had with the chief financial officers across the state as well as communication I had with the state themselves, everybody is in that wait and see mode.”

Slingluff responded asking Dr. Gordon about the approval of the encumbrance contract.

“If there is any remaining money from this budget – now that I understand that it rolls over to the next budget – does that free up any money that could be allocated,” Slingluff asked.

Gordon replied that Vice Chair Heather Howell asked a similar question and he explained that the “challenges” that comes with encumbrance funds is “one-time spending” and the risk that comes against payroll regarding one-time spending. Forsman said the district cannot encumber payroll. 

“Then we have to go back to the city in the fall, which takes it even further out. We go back to the city in the fall because remember, we have a 45 day window after June 30 before we close,” Forsman explained. “So we have bills coming in for the month of June that don’t come in until July or early August because of electricity. We don’t get the sales tax money for June until mid-July, there’s lots of things that don’t happen by June 30th, so we have a 45 day window that we keep the books open in order to account for all those items, because they are considered part of the June 30th year.”

Forsman spoke on the “big if” possibility of having money left over.

“That money, either you encumber it and you contract it for one-time things, or you have to save it until the fall and go to the City Council and ask for it back.”

She said if the School Board asks for it back, they’re not guaranteed it more than the one time.

“So ends up happening is if you give contracts out on one time money, then you run the risk of having what’s called a ‘rift’ the following year when you can’t afford those jobs and then you’re laying people off, which causes more problems because of course that’s a morale issue, then you have unemployment issues after that,” Forsman said.

The budget adjustment resolution was approved on a 5-2 vote. Board members Brittingham and Slingluff cast the two votes in opposition.