By. Brent Wilson, Greene County Field Officer
Virginia law dictates that localities’ Board of Supervisors (or City/Town Council) have taxing authority and provide a financial allocation to the school division, but they do not have line item control of the school budget, that power is delineated to the School Board. In every locality, this creates dynamic tension between those who have the responsibility for generating revenue through taxation and those whose responsibility is educating the children.
Last week, what started with a request from Greene County School Board Chair Michelle Flynn to the Supervisors requesting the same funding in FY2014 as FY2013 quickly turned into a request for a presentation at a mid-January public meeting a list of potential cuts for public feedback to prioritize approximately $1.2 million of spending reductions.
Flynn started the meeting with two key questions. First, can the Board of Supervisors provide the same funding level as this year and the schools will cover any reductions in state and federal funding with cost reductions? Chairman Buggs Peyton (Standardsville) comment was that the county is facing a 6% decline in personal property tax due to reassessment of property values. Flynn’s second request was, would the BOS cover the 1% increase in VRS cost
This lead into a discussion of the Early Retirement Incentive Program (ERIP) which currently has 19 participants. Peyton agreed with using teachers but not unskilled positions such as secretaries and custodians. He also indicated that bus drivers that require special training should be included. Flynn contended that custodians are hard to find and should be included in ERIP.
Peyton shifted the conversation to the $16 million reserve fund that has since been committed to various projects and that the county is looking at a tax increase since the assessment is down. Supervisor Jim Frydl (Midway) estimated that due to the reduced assessments, a shortfall of approximately $1 million would occur if the personal property tax rate stayed the same.
Peyton stated that he is serving his 11th year on the BOS and his priorities for the county, that some may find hard to believe, are education, fire and police.
School Board Member Roddie Kibler (Monroe) asked how do both boards act proactively to address the $1.4 million funding needed?
Greene County Schools Superintendent David Jeck said that one issue he does not want to impact is increasing the student vs. teacher ratio. With so many mandated programs, there is very little that can be cut – athletics, transportation (which is not a school requirement) and the vocational education program are all possible reductions. Jeck suggested surveying parents to ask what they would recommend cutting to come up with the reduced spending. Flynn agreed that historically until there is discussion of cutting programs, there is very little public input.
After the first School Board Public Input Session, Jeck told NBC29:
“If there are certain things that they want to see kept in the budget and if there are certain things that they want to see protected going into next year, then it’s really important that they come out and share that with the school board. The school board needs to hear that, and our school board is very responsive to folks who come out and speak.”
Frydl suggested a joint meeting between the Board of Supervisors and the School Board in January, 2013 to discuss options to cut education funding. School Board Member Troy Harlow (At-Large) assured that if the schools don’t receive the same funding then cuts will have to be made.
Frydl suggested that there is a small window between when the state budget is set in December to when the county budget has to be set in the spring. One of Frydl’s final comments was that either funds will be cut or taxes will have to be raised.
Despite Frydl’s suggestion that the State budget being “set” in December, nothing is done until at least early and often late Spring. As an example, in May of this year the Greene BOS was adjusting their budget based on the State’s final numbers. The Free Enterprise Forum Blog reported:
In last night’s (5/2) hastily arranged budget work session, the Greene County Board of Supervisors tentatively agreed to increase funding for the schools by $1.1 million dollars in Fiscal Year 2013. This was approximately 1 million dollars less than was requested by the School Board.
This let to a most contentious public meeting six days later where we asked if the meeting was a Public Meeting or Pep Rally?
School funding makes up the lion’s share of every locality’s budget. As we are seeing in all of the localities we cover (especially Fluvanna), greater communication between the school boards and the Board of Supervisors is a positive but will not eliminate the dynamic tension that is designed by state code.
The Free Enterprise Forum does not have specific opinions about any tax rate or spending plan; instead the Free Enterprise Forum encourages the citizens of Greene County to become educated about the options and express their preference at the public hearing in January, 2013.
There are no easy answers, but it is far better for citizens to become educated and involved during the process rather than enraged at the outcome.
Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.
The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you. To support this important work please donate online at www.freeenterpriseforum.org