The county School Board is split on how to handle the school system’s potential state funding heading into budget negotiations with the Board of Supervisors.
The two boards will meet to discuss the budget Tuesday ahead of the school system’s official budget presentation to the county supervisors on April 8. Though the school system currently faces a large budget shortfall, School Board members disagree on whether to offer state education money as a way to close the gap.
While the state budget remains up in the air, at least until the General Assembly reconvenes at the end of March, the school system can expect to receive around $30 million, according to Superintendent Karen Garza. That amount represents a compromise between the funding totals proposed in the budget bills from the state Senate and House of Delegates.
However, that money is left out of Garza’s proposed budget. The school system requested an increase of $98.1 million in funding from the county government, representing a 5.7 percent increase from last year.
The county countered with a $34.4 million (2 percent) increase. That would leave FCPS with a shortfall of $63.8 million — without considering the effect of state funds.
The school system so far has kept the state revenue separate from the budget process, hoping to use the missing $30 million when it comes as an extra infusion to counteract the effects of planned budget cuts, such as elementary school class size increases.
Since the initial offers, though, the county has softened slightly. The Board of Supervisors last week opened up the possibility of a real estate tax increase, which would result in a revenue boost that could provide more money to schools.
School Board member Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield) expressed worry that not bringing the state schools funding to the table could put the supervisors off negotiation.
“We’ve made strides, but if we leave the state funding out of our budget request, that’s two steps forward and three steps back,” Schultz said.
Whether the School Board brings up the state money or not, it already is on the county’s radar.
“Some of the supervisors already have come out and said that the math isn’t working because of the state money,” Reed said. “We need to at least include it in our presentation … If we go in there and say we’re standing firm, I don’t think that’s going to bode well for us.”
However, School Board member Sandy Evans (Mason) argued that the current request represents the minimum needs of county schools.
“I want to stand firm in our request,” Evans said. “That is imperative. We can acknowledge that we know that there is state money, but I do not want to decrease our request.”
School Board member Kathy Smith (Sully) said wavering now would hurt, not help, in negotiations.
“I think in the past there has been the perception that we ask for more than we need,” Smith said. “If we back off now it feeds that perception.”