For the second consecutive year, the board of supervisors slashed the public education budget by over $240,000.
The decision was a stark contrast to school officials’ request for an increase in funding allocations for raises in employee salaries and benefits.
On June 6, Dist. 2 Supervisor Ernest Palin initially made a motion to approve the school board’s adopted budget of $15,247,191 for Lancaster County Public Schools (LCPS) in fiscal year (FY) 2014.
Not only did the proposal include a 3-percent salary increase for all school employees, but it also would have restored the budget to roughly the same revenues and expenditures that were originally approved to the school division for FY 2013.
According to the FY 2014 budget as adopted by the school board, LCPS offers the lowest salary to teachers compared to neighboring counties on the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula.
Palin’s motion, however, was defeated 3-2, with dissenting votes from Dist. 5 Supervisor Wally Beauchamp, Dist. 3 Supervisor Jason Bellows and Dist. 1 Supervisor and Chairman Butch Jenkins, who then requested that the board approve a categorized budget totaling $14,732,395.
The revised budget passed 4-1 with Dist. 4 Supervisor Bill Lee, having voted just minutes ago for the schools’ requests, supporting Jenkins’ proposal.
Palin, also the Assistant Principal at Lancaster Middle School, remained alone in his opposition to the decreases.
In regards to Jenkins’ motion, Beauchamp added that the board would review the FY 2014 school budget in December.
“We’ll take a look at expenditures and revenue and make whatever adjustments that may be required,” Beauchamp said in a follow-up interview, adding his concerns that LCPS’ budget continued to “increase…every year” while school attendance, “through no fault of the school system,” remained on a downhill slide.
“Families with kids of school-age are simply leaving the area,” said Beauchamp. “I wish it was something that we could correct, but I don’t know how that’s going to happen.”
According to Beauchamp, retired assistant county administrator Jack Larson projected that, based on the school board’s adopted budget for FY 2014, they would have close to $900,000 left over at the end of the 2013-2014 school year.
The question of unspent funds is not new to officials in Lancaster County. On May 30, the board scrutinized over $610,000 that was left unspent in expenditures for FY 2013.
School Finance Director Sue Salg said that the amount in question had not been used due to $460,000 in carryover grant money and $150,000 in funds returned to the county.
Salg added that a corresponding revenue shortfall of $466,000 prevented the school system from spending the grant award without requesting additional local appropriations.
In the revised school budget for FY 2014, the board approved allocations of $11,160,000 in instructional funds, which closely matched requests from the school board. Therefore, the board anticipates a $195,270 increase in the instructional fund.
Supervisors also granted $1,200,000 in expenditures for school transportation, above both the allocation of $1,067,338 in FY 2013 and the school board’s proposal of $1,156,408 for FY 2014.
The biggest decrease came in the form of a $383,695 reduction to spending on school operations and building maintenance compared to last fiscal year.
When contacted on June 5, prior to the school board meeting, Mann replied that he did not know where cuts would be made within the operations category.
“I’m just starting to try and wrap my mind around this as to what direction we’re going to go, and that’s what my discussion with the school board [will be] tonight,” he said, adding that they would have “some math challenges” in making changes to the revised budget.
The administration and health category also saw a decrease of $68,028, while the board detracted $15,000 from the school board’s initial allocation of $501,483 to the technology fund, which was already lower than the budgeted $628,814 in FY 2013.
There was no change to the school’s line item for debt service of $87,395.
Food service, which is separate from the schools’ operating fund, also remained constant at $585,000 in revenues and expenditures.
According to information from School Board Clerk Deborah Pulliam, there will be a special meeting in July to discuss options and solutions that will then be presented to the school board for their consideration.
The school budget, as revised by the board of supervisors, not only fell over half-a-million short of the schools’ request, but through cutting the operating budget by $267,605,it also continued the board’s trend of allocating fewer funds annually to the school system.
The trend began last year when, in a surprise maneuver, the board reduced the operating budget for LCPS to an even $15 million for FY 2013 in a 3-2 vote after they had already appropriated funds that totaled $15,242,244.
Jenkins, Bellows and Beauchamp, who was then chairman of the board, voted for the cuts primarily due to concerns with school spending.
“That is wrong. That is wrong,” Palin has said in response to the board’s decision last year. “We’re not doing right business.”
This year, however, supervisors cast their vote to reduce their allocation of funding to LCPS prior to the school board finalizing the operating budget.
In response to public concerns of Palin voting on the school budget given his administrative role in Lancaster schools, Jim Campbell, executive director of the Virginia Association of Counties, said that since Palin’s particular salary could not be singled out in the budget, he was allowed to vote on the matter and related issues.
“All over the state we have schoolteachers and some low-level administrators involved in it,” said Campbell. “Employees of the school division are not prohibited from voting on the county budget.”
Campbell added that if a county supervisor was as high as the superintendent-level of administration, only then “that might be a little different” in terms of presenting a conflict of interest.
A public hearing on the FY 2014 budget will be held Thursday, June 20 in Lancaster Court House at 7 p.m.