Board asks Carroll for more school funding

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Carroll educators say their "bare bones" budget is just keeping up with state and federal mandates.

By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — The increased revenue that county schools will request from the Carroll supervisors won’t even cover the new expenses coming from state and federal government mandates, the school board discussed at its March 14 meeting.
And educators still don’t know what the impacts on federal programs that sequestration will have on Carroll schools.
The changes to federal and state revenues that Superintendent Strader Blankenship discussed in his first budget presentation aren’t huge at this point.
Both went down from the current year’s budget to the proposal for fiscal year 2014 — the state’s dropped about $107,000 while the pre-sequestration numbers from the federal government will fall an expected $133,100, according to numbers from the school system.
“We do have some challenges this year,” Blankenship told the board.
The first challenge arises from a continuation of increasing health insurance costs — around a 9.4 percent rise there, with about half of that attributable to expenses associated with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Educators have also projected that the average daily membership will decline by about 60 students.
“We do have a smaller enrollment that we’re figuring the budget on this year,” Blankenship explained. “There’s a loss of standards of quality funds, basically due to that loss of enrollment.”
School officials estimate state Standards of Quality funds will decline by $421,379.
Virginia has also mandated a 2 percent salary increase for schools, but the superintendent noted that Carroll will have to pick up a portion of that cost.
The school system continues to pay a state mandated increase for employee contributions for the Virginia Retirement System.
If sequestration does hit the schools, educators have braced for a 5.2 percent cut in federally funded programs, Blankenship said.
If the sequestration cuts actually happen, they probably wouldn’t cause layoffs, Blankenship said. School officials might consider a furlough day a month for employees in those programs to make up the funding difference.
Carroll schools will save by not filling eight vacant positions, including a student data aide, a secondary aide, a nurse, three teachers, a member of the clerical staff and a custodian.
In order to make the more than $39.8 million in revenue that the school system needs for fiscal year 2014, the schools have asked the county for $630,869 more in local funding for the upcoming year, according to numbers from educators. That’s a 5.8 percent increase.
In all, the school budget will rise by a little more than $400,000. The superintendent noted that amounts to a 1 percent increase.
“It’s bare bones,” as Blankenship characterized this proposal.
“When I was in Richmond talking with a lot of the legislators, they told me the county should provide roughly 30 percent of the funds,” School Board Chairman Brian Spencer asked. “Is that still the average?”
It depends on the composite index, Blankenship said of the formula the state uses to calculate how much a locality can afford to pay for education.
In the proposed budget, that ratio breaks down to 28.8 percent of revenue coming from Carroll and 58.3 coming from the state, according to info from the school board.
“It matches back up with the amount we are requesting from the county,” said Tammy Quesenberry, schools’ finances director. “It matches perfectly.”
How much of the increases go back to state and federal mandates? School Board Member Joey Haynes asked.
All of it, basically, Blankenship answered.
Spencer estimated that the state mandate on salary increases and the extra expense in health insurance will cost more than $700,000, but the county’s increase in school funding is only $630,000.
“So, this is again a zero, no-frills budget that’s actually less than what the inflationary cost that we’ve been mandated or exposed to,” Spencer said.