Districts deal with state delays
Published 11:21 am Friday, July 28, 2023
By Michael Hinman
The Charlotte Gazette
It’s late July. The sun is shining. Families are enjoying time away. Schools are preparing for the return of students in just a few weeks.
And there’s just one question hanging in the air: Where is the state budget? And as the weeks pass by without one in place, what impact is that having on local schools? If those were questions on a quiz in one of his classrooms, Charlotte County Schools superintendent Robbie Mason knows not a single state lawmaker could answer it correctly.
The good news is so far, any impact from the lack of the state budget has been minimal.
“Since it was the second year of the budget and we already had a state budget in place (before), the issues we have faced have been relatively minor,” Mason said.
The biggest issue for Charlotte is that staff want to know how much they’ll get paid. All versions of the state budget call for a pay increase for school staff, but as of yet, the House and Senate haven’t been able to agree on how much.
“One budget version called for a 5% increase, while another version called for a 7% increase,” Mason said.
That can make hiring new people a challenge.
“At the same time, we were hiring new staff and we were not sure about which raise to offer, because we did not know which percentage the state compensation supplement would cover,”
Mason said. “If we offered less of an increase than surrounding divisions, we could have potentially lost teaching candidates. If this level of division remains in Richmond as a new budget is developed next year, it could prove to be very challenging for public school systems.”
WORKING ON A SCRATCH BUDGET
Like many school districts, Charlotte County is working off a scratch budget, fueled primarily from federal and local funding, with a rough estimate of how much the state will provide. Right now, the hope is those monies will hold out until a state budget has been finalized.
Lawmakers returned to the negotiating table for the first time in nearly a month last Thursday, but it doesn’t appear a resolution is on the horizon.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced last year’s budget created a $5.1 billion surplus, with the Republican wanting to spend at least some of that in the form of tax cuts coming into the current budget cycle. Yet, Democrats who have control of the state Senate, aren’t keen on that proposal, especially since they believe it could cut funding to a number of key state resources, including education.
“I know no more than you do at this time,” state Sen. Frank Ruff told The Charlotte Gazette on Friday, July 21. “With the leadership of the Senate budget conference committee made up completely with those not returning because of retirement or defeat, there seems to be no one willing to make an effort to complete their work.”
Ruff described the last time senators tried to get a budget approved — saying the “wheels quickly came off in the process.” State Sen. George Barker filled in as chair of the finance committee for State Sen. Janet Howell, who was on vacation. Instead of making progress, talks broke down because no one seemed to be able to agree on what had been hashed out in previous meetings.
“I’m not on the committee piecing together the budget, therefore, I don’t know which has the better memory,” Ruff said. “Nevertheless, the result was that each walked away from the table. Something I would never do.
“When assigned a project, one’s responsibility is to get it done.”