Charlotte County schools in ‘wait and see’ mode over state shortfall

Published 2:45 pm Wednesday, February 15, 2023

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Virginia districts, including Charlotte County schools, are in a ‘wait and see’ mode. On the plus side, both the Virginia House and Senate versions of the state budget would fully cover at least this year’s shortfall that came about due to a bookkeeping mistake. The bad part is that districts have to hold off on budget discussions until that’s finalized and that could take a couple more weeks at least. As a result, districts like Charlotte are being careful about spending until they know for certain what’s coming.

“The fiscal year for public schools ends on June 30 of each year,” said Charlotte County Superintendent Dr. Robbie Mason. “We monitor our budget closely throughout the fiscal year and try to leave ourselves a cushion at the end of our budget cycle to ensure that we do not overspend our local appropriation.”

Mason said he’s hopeful these funds will offset the potential revenue loss from the state. But that’s still a large hole to fill.

“We are forecasted to lose over $250,000 in state funding for the 2023-24 school year because of the DOE error,” Mason said. “That shortfall will prove to be difficult to overcome as we develop priorities for next year’s budget.”

The problem is that while yes, the money is included in both the House and Senate versions of the budget, it’s in different amounts. The House version, for example, would give $90 million for this current year, to cover the $58.1 million shortfall. Next year, however, it would only allocate $77 million for the remaining $111 million budget hole. The Senate version, however, fully covers the $201 million total budget shortfall over the two year period. And plus, there’s an extra $441 million Gov. Glenn Youngkin wants to add in for schools, but both the House and Senate have to debate how that would be spent.

How did we get here?

First off, here’s a quick refresher on the situation. On Jan. 1, Virginia eliminated its grocery tax. There was just one problem. That tax had provided millions of dollars in funding for school districts across the state, including Charlotte County. Specifically, $201 million had been set aside in the current two-year state budget, money that would go from the grocery tax to help fund schools. Districts budgeted with their share of that money in mind, expecting it to come because nobody told them otherwise.

Instead, superintendents received a letter from the Virginia Department of Education at the end of January. It explained there had been an error and now, more than three fourths of the way through the current school year, districts won’t receive all the state funding that had been promised, for this year or the next. That’s what the Assembly is now trying to fix, using the more than $3 billion in the state’s rainy day fund as a one-time band-aid.

Some help for Charlotte County schools

Now as the Assembly debates, the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) has promised to send some help. It’s worth pointing out they’re partly to blame, as it was a VDOE budgeting error that caused all this.

Each year, they give districts a budget tool, a mathematical formula that helps the district’s staff determine how much each district would receive from the state over the next two years. The department didn’t account for the loss of the $201 million, so their tool gave incorrect numbers. Now VDOE officials are promising districts will get two new, corrected formulas to work with in the next week, one for the House budget and one for the Senate. And yes, that means double the work for district officials.

“We will have a public hearing to gather input from the community concerning next year’s budget priorities at 6:45 next Tuesday,” Mason said. “That is the first step in our budget process. In March, we will have a meeting of our school board finance committee, a budget work session with our board, a joint budget work session with the BOS, and a budget approval meeting. By the time those meetings are held, we should have a better idea about whether the Assembly will provide funding to make up for the DOE error for this fiscal year, next fiscal year, neither year or both years.”