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Budget for Chesterfield schools remains in limbo as state budget delays continue

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With the Virginia General Assembly having yet to agree on a state spending plan, Chesterfield's budget for the upcoming school year remains in limbo.  

In a Tuesday afternoon work session, School Board members noted that the delays in knowing the county's revenue will impact the district's ability to prepare for 2023 and affect plans for Hope Academy, a pilot program aimed at helping students recover from substance use while continuing their education.

The hiring and enrollment processes can't start until the state budget is approved. 

"Those folks at the state, because they're fighting over who is going to get a political win, they need to recognize their public servants are going to suffer," said Debbie Bailey, a School Board member representing the Dale District, during Tuesday's work session. "And our students are going to be the end result of that suffering."

Another initiative that is uncertain without the passage of the state budget is how much money will be allocated toward a second salary study, whose goal is to increase the salaries of more positions within Chesterfield County Public Schools and address salary compression issues, or when less experienced employees make close to what people in higher-level positions make. 

Back in April, the Chesterfield Board of Supervisors approved a $905.5 million general fund budget that increased teacher starting pay from $46,000 to $49,481 — between an 8.6% and 8.8% jump.

This would cover about 6,500 positions.

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Jim Ingle, member of the Chesterfield Board of Supervisor listens during meeting on Wednesday, November 17, 2021 at the Chesterfield County Police Department in Chesterfield, Virginia.

At the time, Bermuda District Supervisor Jim Ingle urged the state "to get its act together, publish its budget so we know what we're actually voting on because we know what we vote on tonight, we will have to come back and amend."

Bob Meister, chief financial officer for Chesterfield schools, said in a budget update on Tuesday the state has up to 15 days to calculate how much money will be allocated to each district after passing the final Virginia budget.

Two possible timelines, if the legislature acts by the end of May, could mean a special meeting between June 7 and June 29 for Chesterfield to have more concrete plans.

Chesterfield schools is hoping they don't take that long, Meister said. 

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Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax; Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, and Del. Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach, spoke on March 12, the day the General Assembly closed out its 60-day session without approving the state’s budget.

While both the House of Delegates and Senate budgets make K-12 top priorities, the House proposes to split the proposed salary increase for teachers between 4% raises and 1% bonuses each year versus the Senate version, which keeps a 5% rise for teachers and a $1,000 bonus on June 1.

The House proposes to create a school construction fund through a loan rebate program that uses $292 million in state dollars and $250 million from the Literary Fund. The Senate's plan includes $500 million to help replace more than half of Virginia's school buildings that are over 50 years old.

"It bears repeating: please, because it is more favorable to schools, if we could pass the Senate version or closer to the Senate version," said Kathryn Haines, School Board member for the Midlothian District. "Because the achievement gaps that are a result of COVID are real and we need an investment that Virginia has not yet seen before in education." 

General Assembly will have plenty to consider next week - but no budget

smoreno@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6103

Twitter: @sabrinaamorenoo

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