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Powhatan School Board tentatively passes operating budget

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POWHATAN – The Powhatan County School Board recently approved its fiscal year (FY) 2023 budget at $54.76 million but did so with the understanding that things could change significantly depending what happens at the state and local levels.

During the board’s meeting on Tuesday, April 19, the board voted unanimously to approve the FY2023 operating budget at $54,761,583 as well as the school food service budget at $1,682,387.

Given the fact that the state has still not passed its budget as well as ongoing discussions about the budget by the Powhatan County Board of Supervisors, Dr. Eric Jones, superintendent, said he anticipates the budget will have to be amended in the future.

However, the board is legally required to approve the budget in April, he said, so the members needed to move forward on it.

“We have collectively worked very hard on the budget this season. I know the school board has had more meetings and scrutiny of the budget than ever, and staff has certainly worked very hard to answer questions, bring forward information and look at our budget,” Jones said when introducing the topic.

Rick Cole, who represents District 1, pointed out that while the school board has worked hard on the budget, the members and citizens are frustrated because they still do not have an accurate picture of what the revenues will be.

“This budget that we are approving is our best attempt at what we have based on the data we have right now. It is a very good likelihood – almost a certainty – that we are going to have to go back and make some changes later on when we finally do get our revenue picture,” he said “So I guess I ask citizens to be involved in the process even as we move forward, to be aware of what is going on as more information comes out.”

Susan Smith, District 2, also asked staff and the community for patience, saying “we are doing the best we can in the dreamland that we are hanging right now. It is just a wait-and-see game.”

The FY2023 budget the board approved includes a local transfer from the county of $26,026,607, which is an increase of $2.12 million from the FY2022 adopted budget. The other largest revenue source, the state, is budgeted at $24,586,776, which is an increase of $64,138 over last year’s adopted budget.

While the school division did see an increase in state funding, the state transfer is significantly less than the school board originally anticipated at the start of the budget season owing to the county’s Composite Index, which determines a school division’s ability to pay education costs fundamental to the Commonwealth’s Standards of Quality (SOQ), seeing a dramatic increase.

County administrator Ned Smither proposed the large increase from the county to help offset a $2.77 million imbalance the school board was facing when it realized how the Composite Index impacted its proposed budget. However, that increase from the county is not final, as the board of supervisors was discussing possible cuts to the school division’s budget as recently as the night before.

The other sources of revenue in the budget are the federal government ($1,530,685); other local sources ($525,000), and state funds specifically earmarked as construction-related funds ($2,092,515).

Some of the key points of this year’s budget were a 5% salary increase for all employees as well as targeted adjustments for teachers (7th rank median), secondary assistant principals (9th rank), and mechanics (9th rank). The total price tag for all of this is $1,991,192.

The school division also saw a 19.1% increase in health care costs for FY2023 totaling $856,000. When working to make up the budget shortfall, the division made $436,367 in reductions by reducing nine full-time equivalent positions.

School board budget documents showed a line item decrease of $66,784 that includes increases for fuel and paper costs due to inflation, but they are offset by significant decreases such as: the deferral of Chromebook replacements for grades three to five ($320,503); conference travel and mileage reduced by 60% ($84,920); dues and memberships reduced by 34% ($15,810), and technology software purchases reduced by 9% ($48,577).

Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.

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