Cuts, unfunded mandates led to school budget crisis

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Brian Spencer is chairman of the Carroll County School Board

This is the increase in local funding needed to maintain Carroll County’s education program.
How did this happen?
1. Disappearing federal stimulus dollars, Virginia Retirement System (VRS) bills and a continuing real estate funk make a toxic combination.
2. Last year, the Carroll Board of Supervisors gave county employees a 3 percent raise and wanted the school system to do the same, instead of carrying over the $341,000 surplus in the school budget.
The school board agreed and that action kept this year’s budget from having that surplus and increased salaries $341,000, plus taxes, workers’ compensation and the VRS contributions.
This hits the budget with a $700,000 shortfall.
3. Since 2009, Virginia has cut Carroll’s funding for basic aid from $15.037 million to $11.574 million in 2013, a $3.463 million decrease.
4. Gov. Bob McDonnell’s budget recommended $2.2 billion in employer contributions to VRS, of which the state would pay approximately $1.2 billion. Local governments would need to cover the remaining $1 billion, leading to large deficits for local school districts.
I am a conservative and I am concerned about taxes and their impact. However, there seems to be a mentality that school budgets can always be reduced.
My argument is that the state should reevaluate its funding and the effects on Virginia residents. Tying the hands of local boards with limited resources, compared to the state’s, is the easy way out. The Carroll supervisors have helped in the past, but the state passing unfunded mandates is making their job more difficult.
I call on Gov. McDonnell and the General Assembly to do their jobs and not pass the buck. They were elected to create jobs and build a stronger Virginia, but their extreme budget proposals don’t meet Virginia’s needs. Strong schools are an essential investment in the future success of our children and our economy.
The state wants to fund yesterday’s schools, not tomorrow’s.
What is VRS and why does it matter in the budget?
VRS is a pension plan that provides retirement benefits to most state employees. Local governments also participate in VRS because it is cheaper than setting up their own retirement plans. There are approximately 570 participating government units, including Carroll County Public Schools.
Payroll is the number one expense for the state, so VRS has a significant effect on the state budget and taxpayers. The benefits that VRS pays affect thousands of teachers and other state and local government workers and their families.
The governor’s budget calls for VRS to increase from 11.66 percent to 16.66 percent. However, the bottom line dollar amount is actually an increase in funding cost of over 47 percent for Carroll County’s budget.
Carroll is not alone.
Here are examples of other localities’ school budget shortfalls:
• Richmond – $23.8 million
• Roanoke County – $10 million
• York County – $9 million
• Chesterfield County – $7 million
• Lynchburg – $4.7 million
• Charlottesville – $4 million
• Pittsylvania County – $3.4 million
• Bedford County – $2 million
• Staunton City Schools – $1.9 million
VRS was used years ago to balance the state budget. State officials made it legal to rob VRS to pay for state budget shortfalls and now teachers are asked to increase their contributions because VRS is underfunded.
The reality is that local school boards and boards of supervisors have to make tough budget decisions, but the state can pass on huge funding mandates and say that they never raised your taxes.
I hope that you will not be tricked by this and support your local boards through this difficult time.
Children need a good education to prepare them to thrive in an increasingly competitive global economy. Cutting crucial funding for schools is absolutely wrong for Virginia.
We must invest in our students to help them reach their potential.