Board reviews first draft of school budget

The Virginia Gazette
First budget drafted presented to W-JCC school board

A proposed 2017 budget for Williamsburg-James City County Schools funds more teachers, pay raises for teachers and staff and pays more money into the Virginia Retirement System.

It delays replacing several school buses that will be 15 years or older, purchasing new middle and high school science textbooks and does not pay the cost for high school students taking AP exams.

Superintendent Steve Constantino presented his proposed fiscal year 2017 budget to the school board this week.

The total proposed budget is $128.2 million or $4 million more than the division's previous $124.2 million budget, an increase of 3.2 percent, according to the budget's summary.

"For past several years, we've faced shortfalls that have led to staffing reduction and program curtailments or elimination," Constantino told board members. "Even though our budget situation is not as severe as it has been in past years, we still cannot say we've cleared financial obstacles created by the recession, increased enrollment and diverse learning needs of students."

The delays and cuts are in place to offset a more than $2 million drop in state funding for public education in the division, the superintendent said.

Tuesday's meeting was the first time school board members reviewed the superintendent's draft budget. In January, they attended a budget retreat to set items as budget priorities for the division.

Much of the budget's increase is going to pay for more teachers. School officials said division enrollment has increased by 130 students, requiring it to add five more teachers. One of those teachers will work with the division's growing group of English as a second language students, Constantino said.

The school district, already one of the region's largest employers, would increase its staff to 1,633.

The proposed budget updates the teachers' salary schedule, or chart which pays teachers based on experience and education, to add a pay increase for new teachers, Constantino said. Teachers already with W-JCC Schools would continue get pay raises according to the existing salary schedule, he added.

All employees would get an average raise of 1.5 percent, according to the proposed budget.

Division chief financial officer Christina Berta said division officials feel comfortable delaying school bus purchases another year to fund the new teachers and other initiatives.

Local governments will continue picking up most of the tab for W-JCC schools, at 64.7 percent. The state's portion was just under 25 percent and remaining percentages came from state sales tax and other revenue, according to the proposed budget breakdown.

"State funding for schools continues to be a challenge," Constantino said. "In the governor's proposed budget, school spending still is behind where it was in 2009."

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, many states have cut funding to public education to pre-recession, or 2008 levels. In Virginia, funding for public schools has dropped more than 11 percent, the non-profit agency reports.

The superintendent's proposed budget calls for more per student spending, bringing the total up to $10,859.54 from $10,645.69 for the 2015-16 school year. Virginia school divisions spent $10,148 per student in 2014, according to the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, the auditing arm of the General Assembly.

School board members didn't make any decisions on the proposed budget this week. The next steps in the process are a public hearing on the proposed budget, its approval by the school board and then a presentation to Williamsburg and James City County officials.

Reach Canty at (757) 345-2341.

W-JCC Schools proposed budget highlights

Total: $128.2 million, a 3.2 percent increase.

Per-pupil spending: $10,859.54, a 2 percent increase.

Employee raises: an average 1.5 percent

Percentage paid by localities: 64.7 percent

Percentage paid by state: Less than 25 percent

Source: W-JCC Schools superintendent's proposed budget

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