WJCC adopts smaller 2018 budget

Walking into their Tuesday night meeting, the seven school board members knew they were fighting an uphill battle.

The board recognized the $132 million Williamsburg-James City County Schools 2018 fiscal year budget approved March 21 requested $754,000 more than the localities planned to give. The overage included a $1.5 million increase in contributions to the Virginia Retirement System required by the state.

As for the $52 million five-year capital improvement plan the School Board signed off on Dec. 13, only $32.8 million of those projects were included in the county and city's five-year plans.

The board unanimously adopted both a final budget and $32.8 million capital improvement plan Tuesday night. Both were amended to reflect the funding shortfalls.

The budget amendments pulled from savings and transfers among departments, and some capital projects were pushed into future years' plans. No teaching positions or additional programs for students were cut to make up the gap.

The planned expansion of the Pathways program to Jamestown and Lafayette high schools was eliminated between the proposed and approved budgets, and a spousal surcharge was added for employees to keep spouses on the division's health insurance plan.

"I didn't support the initial budget because I thought other cuts could either be made or additional funds could be found," James Beers (JCC Roberts) said. "I am satisfied that we have rectified that."

Operating budget

In the final $131.3 million operating budget, savings came to the rescue.

Just before approving the 2018 budget Tuesday, the board members unanimously agreed to use $348,000 in savings from fiscal year 2017 and $2,000 from this year's technology department budget to buy 700 new student laptops. That cost had previously been approved as part of the 2018 budget, and thus took away $350,000 from the $754,000 overage.

Attrition — higher-paid employees leaving while newer, lower-paid hires take their place — and overestimates on contract costs are expected to save the schools the remaining $404,000, leaving a balanced budget.

"Some of the contracts just came in more favorably than had been budgeted," schools spokeswoman Betsy Overkamp-Smith said. "The main difference is they have actual quotes rather than just projections."

She said the area they saw the largest savings were in contract insurance costs for liability, worker's compensation and unemployment.

Capital improvement plan

While board members plan for a five-year capital plan, they only fund one year at a time. In December they requested $5.9 million for 2018 projects including entrance redesigns at three schools, a new roof for Lafayette High School, parking lot and HVAC repairs, and electrical work and new auditorium seats for Berkeley Middle School.

The city and county approved $3 million of the 2018 funding, moving the $2.7 million Lafayette roof, the $167,600 auditorium seats and $42,000 of the electrical work to fiscal year 2019.

For the roof, which is expected to cost more than budgeted because of additional damage found upon inspection, the county budget states it will look into borrowing options for the project in 2019.

W-JCC's capital plan reflected these changes. Board chairwoman Kyra Cook said it's not unusual for the localities to push projects into future years' plans. She said this year the schools collaborated more effectively with the county and city leadership, a trend she hopes will continue.

"Sometimes that means the localities have to push things out, that's just part of the process," Cook said. "Hopefully we won't be kicking the can down the road year after year (as collaboration improves), because our needs are very real."

Although only fiscal year 2018 funding was approved, projects shifted in outlying years as well.

The high school expansions, estimated to cost $19.4 million, were scratched. According to James City County's capital plan approved in April, the expansions were removed until after the School Board finishes adjusting attendance boundaries ahead of a new middle school opening in 2018. The deadline for that work is next spring.

The division's expenses are funded primarily by the county ($88 million in 2018) and the city ($9.2 million). Each one's allocation is based on their student populations — about 10 percent for the city and 90 percent for the county. The state kicked in $33 million for the 2018 budget.

Cook recognized how much the localities contribute to the schools, and that they can't always fund everything the division asks for. The commonwealth's contribution to W-JCC will eclipse 2009 recession levels for the first time in 2018 — by $300,000.

"I really hope the state decides to invest in education next year, and every year after, because the state is really not investing it its children appropriately, not investing as it should," Cook said.

The 2018 budget rolls out July 1.

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

2018 Budget and capital improvement plan

School Board approved budget March 21: $132 million, a 3.5 percent increase

School Board adopted budget May 16: $131 million, a 2.9 percent increase

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

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

School Board approved 2018 capital improvement plan Dec. 13: $5.9 million

School Board adopted 2018 capital improvement plan May 16: $3 million

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