School budget includes 2 percent bonuses

Superintendent Marcus Newsome’s proposed $523.8 million budget for fiscal 2012 includes a one-time, 2 percent payment for school system employees.

Newsome presented the budget, which he described as one of “cautious optimism,” to the School Board at the panel’s Jan. 25 meeting. The proposed spending plan is up $6 million from fiscal 2011.

“In this budget, there are no cuts to our classrooms or to school-based administrators,” he said, and no programs are proposed for reduction or elimination.        The proposal includes a one-time, 2 percent “salary enhancement” for employees, he said, which will help offset the pay cuts many employees took this year.

In the current fiscal year, teachers and employees at grade 43 and below took a 2 percent pay cut, while employees at grade 44 and higher took a 3 percent cut. Newsome took a 7 percent pay cut in fiscal 2011. In the last two years, the school system’s budget has dropped by $76.7 million and 489 jobs have been eliminated.

Newsome said the school system’s employees should understand that avoiding further classroom and programmatic cuts came “with some sacrifice.” The budget calls for a $1.5 million in cuts to the facilities department, which could affect service levels, and the reduction of nine positions in the central office, Assistant Superintendent for Business and Finance David Myers said.

The proposed budget maintains the current pupil-to-teacher ratios, which are 25:1 for elementary schools, 27:1 for middle schools and 26:1 for high schools.

On the revenue side, officials need to be cautious of the state’s sales tax revenue estimate, as they are sometimes “aggressive,” Myers said.

“We sure hope that number is true,” he said, as the school system is projected to receive $50 million in sales tax revenue in fiscal 2012, which is up $3.6 million from the current year.

At the local level, he said, the county’s contribution to the school system is expected to drop, as property tax collections will likely fall because of falling assessments. The school system is relying on $3.2 million in federal stimulus funds and $12 million in federal jobs bill funds to balance its budget and fund the one-time payments for employees, he said.

Though the school system appears to be getting a reprieve in fiscal 2012, the outlook for fiscal 2013 is not as positive. Annual savings are expected to fall with continued budget reductions and the one-time funding will no longer be available, Myers said, and officials are projecting a shortfall of $15 million to $20 million in fiscal 2013.

Officials are presenting the outlook for fiscal 2013 not as a “doom and gloom item,” but to show the school system recognizes the importance of the $6 million it is using for the one-time payments for employees, Newsome said.  

During the public comment period, Amy Peterson thanked officials for recognizing teachers’ hard work. Teachers want to be heroes, she said, but the expectation now is that they be superheroes. The reality is that teachers are getting worn down by the current conditions, she said.

James Wilson, a teacher, said the property tax adjustment that failed last year needed to be brought back to the table.

“We are stealing from our children’s futures,” he said.

Ryan Abbott said he was deeply concerned about prior year budget cuts and school officials’ failure to tell people how dire the situation was. Students won’t get back the opportunities they are missing right now, he said, and it will take the schools years to recover from the cuts.

The budget presentation came less than a week after the School Board voted 4-1 to approve a $143.6 million capital improvement plan for fiscal years 2012-2016. Matoaca School Board Member Omarh Rajah cast the lone vote against the plan, citing its inclusion of projects at schools that are under capacity. Nearly $30 million is requested for capital projects in fiscal 2012.

Three projects, which were funded in previous years, are set to begin in July 2011: The renovations of Gates Elementary School and Midlothian Middle School, and the replacement of the HVAC system at the old Clover Hill High School. Also, $4.5 million for the Watkins Elementary School project was moved to fiscal 2012.

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