School Districts React to Budget Amendments
Virginia’s Public School districts are reacting to the House and Senate’s proposed amendments to the 2010-2012 biennial budget.
Hanover public schools…who serve approximately nineteen thousand five hundred students….are estimating that the budget cuts will require them to eliminate 226 support and teaching positions out of 2,800 total staff, almost an 8 percent workforce reduction. This is on top of the 55 positions they have had to eliminate thus far, even after receiving federal stimulus money.
Michael Thornton – Assistant Superintendant of Business and Operations for Hanover Public Schools.
Thorton: Prior to the receipt of federal stimulus funding, we were slated to eliminate approximately 117 positions, but the federal stimulus allowed us to reduce that to about 55 positions for the current year. About two thirds of our workforce are Hanover residents, so reductions that we make conceivably is going to effect Hanover households in a real way.
Since 2007 Hanover Public Schools have had to reduce their budget by over 15 million dollars. Now they are facing an additional 8-10 million dollars in cuts over the biennium.
Thorton: We’ve tried to stay as far away from the classroom as we could. When almost 80 percent of your budget is focused on classroom instruction, when you start having revenue reductions over a two year period, getting into the range of 15 to 20 percent from the state then It’s unavoidable that we can stay out of the classroom.
We have grown accustomed here in Hanover County of having smaller class sizes, and we have had a record of student performance that supports that investment. As we begin to increase class sizes, then the obvious concern would be, what will that do in terms of our record of student achievement and student performance?
Thornton says these reductions will also affect extra curricular activities through cuts to coaching stipends and club sponsorship stipends.
Sean Smith is the spokesman for Chesterfield County Public Schools, the fourth largest school district in the state…with 60,000 students and 8,000 employees. Last year the federal stimulus saved 275 jobs in their district, yet they still had to eliminate another 275 positions. This year they are facing a 46 million dollar shortfall.
Smith: Eighty percent of our budget is compensation and benefits, when you look at having to reduce at this time at least 46 million dollars that is going to mean cuts into our workforce. Parents and students in Chesterfield County and across Virginia are going to see a dramatic impact on education. In Chesterfield County we have a strong school division, we're known for educational excellence. This level of funding cuts for our school division at 46 million dollars is going to change the face of education as we know it today.
The Chesterfield County School Board is scheduled to vote on their budget this evening.
Richmond Public Schools serve approximately twenty four thousand students and employ nearly thirty three hundred employees. This year they’ve had to reduce their two hundred and forty five million dollar budget by six percent.
Felicia Cosby is the Communications Officer for Richmond Public Schools, which recently had to eliminate 138 jobs, jobs which were spared last year due to federal stimulus dollars…money the state can no longer rely on.
Cosby: We want to be able to offer more than the basics. With the Spanish immersion pilot program that we had, that enabled our kids at a very young age to learn a new language, and as they continue to hopefully be competitive in our global environment and that’s our primary goal, student achievement, but beyond that we definitely want our students to be competitive.
Rob Jones, Director of Government Relations for the Virginia Education Association says he was pleased that neither the House nor the Senate cut education as deeply as Governor McDonnell suggested, but that any further cuts will be harmful.
Jones: The rhetoric, and we’ve seen it from both parties, it’s so much easier for them to sit up here and say, ‘And we’re cutting education but we’re not hurting the classroom.’ Well it’s just not true. You can’t do that. The money is fungible when it comes to the local level and the local school divisions have cut to the bone already and so there’s nowhere else to go. And that’s one of the missing messages on that is that we need the support staff to have schools. You need a custodian and you need a bus driver. You’ve got to get the kids to school, you need food service workers. Those people are a necessary part of public schools.
Democratic Delegate Jennifer McClellan of Richmond…says that when the public sees how the cuts will affect their lives on a daily basis…it may raise support for increasing taxes.
McClellan: When Chesterfield County was talking about consolidating schools, parents were outraged. People are already saying to me, I would gladly pay my car tax if that means that teachers aren’t getting laid off, and when I need access to affordable health care, I get it. I think we’ll start to hear a lot more of that.
Governor McDonnell and the House Republican Majority have maintained that while budget cuts are painful they are preferable to increasing taxes in a down economy.
Craig Carper, WCVE News, Capitol Square.