Portion of unspent dollars will not be returned to Southampton schools

Published 9:26 am Tuesday, January 24, 2012

COURTLAND—Law requires Southampton County Public Schools to annually return unspent budget dollars to county coffers. And for 16 years, the county has given back that money for the school district’s upcoming budget.

County supervisors on Monday broke with tradition.

Supervisors voted 6-0 to return $1.1 million of the $1.6 million that was unspent for fiscal year 2011. If the school district can prove it needs the extra $500,000, the board would consider it.

Retiring district Superintendent Charles Turner said it was doable.

“We will do the very best that we can,” Turner said.

Franklin District Supervisor Barry Porter asked Turner if it was possible to give the district back less than $1.6 million.

“I’m not real comfortable with what’s going on here,” Porter said. “We’re hitting a brick wall this year. We have no (federal) stimulus money this year, which means we will need $2 million more next year. You have another $1 million you need to put into the Virginia Retirement System. We already tax our citizens at the maximum. We have a lot of retired people struggling. We have to balance our needs with their needs.”

Turner noted that the district operates on expecting the return of the unspent money. Without it, there would be layoffs of teachers and teaching assistants, an increase in class sizes and the elimination of electives, extra curricular activities and the sports program.

“Let us get through the year without chaos and then we can work within your framework on how you want it next year,” he said. “It’s the middle of the year. We operate under the premises we were asked to operate. If we were under the impression this would happen, we would’ve planned our year another way.”

The $500,000 to be considered later was allocated for school buses. The school district has 31 buses that are more than 15 years old; eight are 21 years old. Buses are $80,000; two were purchased this year.

Porter suggested the district establish a replacement schedule for its buses.

“We try to get onto a schedule,” Turner said. “If we had the funding, we would’ve done what we need to do with the buses.”

The school district has experienced a $3.2 million cut in state funding since fiscal year 2009 and received $466,000 less in sales tax revenue for 2009 and 2010. When preparing the 2011 budget, the district looked at cutting 51 positions. The unspent money from the county funded 32 of those positions and the remaining 19 were eliminated through retirements and resignations.