W-JCC schools face funding gap

Williamsburg-James City County Schools are in a budgetary bind, with just 10 days to close a $754,000 spending gap.

That rift was created when the school board signed off on its fiscal year 2018 budget in late March, knowing it was well above what its funding partners — James City County and the city of Williamsburg — had planned to give the schools.

James City County's Board of Supervisors approved the county's $228 million budget April 25 — without any of that extra funding.

The city's $36 million budget will come to a vote Thursday; its proposed budget's school funding is $72,000 less than requested by the division.

Superintendent Olwen Herron said the revenue hole in the schools' $132 million budget is not set in stone until after the city council's vote.

"I'm looking forward to seeing what they do and then very quickly responding to balance the budget and get excited about next year," Herron said.

Anticipating the gap could persist, school staff went back to the drawing board shortly after the board approved the budget March 21. They presented a partial solution to the School Board Tuesday.

W-JCC wants to spend $350,000 on laptops for Berkeley and Hornsby middle schools, and for the 100 students starting the Pathways program at Warhill High School in the fall. The purchase will complete a school initiative to provide laptops to all middle school students; the eighth grades at Berkeley and Hornsby are the only two left without the computers.

That purchase is included in the 2018 budget, but because of 2017 savings, chief financial officer Christina Berta said the schools can buy the laptops from fiscal year 2017 funds and take that amount out of the 2018 budget.

"We would use that as a balancing mechanism," Berta said.

The school board is expected to vote on the budget transfer May 16, the same night they plan to adopt a final 2018 budget. School Board chairwoman Kyra Cook canceled a special meeting on the budget planned for May 15 because she said the board felt they didn't need the additional discussion time.

She expects the $350,000 budget transfer to be approved.

"It's an initiative that's been underway for three years, so it's just moving forward on executing the plan that's been in place for a while," Cook said.

To balance the budget, expenditures have to fall by $404,000 or revenue must make up that difference. Herron and Berta will present the administration's recommended solutions to the board May 16.

The school board requested 3.5 percent more this year because of a mandatory rate increase in employer contributions to the Virginia Retirement System, costing W-JCC $1.5 million. The other large expenditure is $1.1 million for a step increase in teacher salaries and a 1.5 percent raise for staff.

Effects on teachers

Cook said she doesn't think the raises are on the chopping block.

"I don't think that would be an option," Cook said. "I support raises, as do my colleagues."

The board already passed one cost on to teachers and staff in earlier budget deliberations by adding a health insurance surcharge of $50 to keep spouses on the division's plan.

Jamestown High School teacher Danon Middleton spoke about the charge during the public comment section of Tuesday's School Board meeting.

"I have a family of six, this will cost me a great deal of money as it will most of my peers," Middleton said. "Why use teachers as the tool to balance your budget? … Have you considered the effects on teacher morale, retention, recruitment?"

W-JCC will see an estimated $189,000 in revenue by adding the surchage, according to the School Board approved budget. It will cost anyone who chooses to keep a spouse on the division insurance about $600 a year.

A teacher with a bachelor's degree moving from the lowest salary rate up one step will see a $519 raise, according school pay scale documents. A teacher with a doctoral degree moving from the penultimate to the highest salary rate gets a $796 pay bump for the next year.

Possible cuts could be to planned student program expansions like the New Horizon's Program ($250,000), the Virtual Learning Program ($100,000) or the Early College Program ($90,000).

Redistricting

The board also allocated $150,000 in the 2018 budget to hire a consulting firm to redraw attendance zones to fill James Blair Middle School when it opens September 2018.

Consultants would be tasked with drawing potential new maps given certain criteria, which could include creating feeder patterns, balancing school capacity or keeping neighborhoods together. Board members agreed Tuesday they want the firm to guide their discussion of those parameters.

The request for proposal — the document detailing the work for firms to bid on — asks for costs estimates to tackle only middle school zones, or both middle and high school boundaries. Overcrowding at some high schools, namely Jamestown, pushed the board to explore redistricting as an alleviation tactic.

Because they have to wait until a firm is hired, redistricting won't be back on a school board agenda until they vote to award the contract, possibly in late June or July.

Williams can be reached by phone at 757-345-2341.

2018 budget

School Board approved budget: $132 million, a 3.5 percent increase

JCC final funding: $88.1 million, a 2.4 percent increase

Williamsburg proposed funding: $9.2 million, a 1.4 percent increase

Schools funding gap if City approves budget as is: $754,000

Next meeting: 6:30 p.m. May 16 at the Stryker Center in Williamsburg, 412 North Boundary Street.

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