IOW school budget again challenging

Published 9:50 am Friday, March 14, 2014

Budget season is upon us and as I shared during my recent presentation of the fiscal year 2015 Proposed Budget, this year is shaping up to be another challenging one. Last year’s budget was difficult to work through, so this year my team and I decided to make this year’s budget with purposeful planning and an inclusive process that allows us to strategically prioritize the needs of the school division.

During a school board retreat earlier this school year, our school board members discussed the top needs that they have heard from parents, community members and stakeholders. Those needs included compensation and benefits for employees, school bus replacement, maintaining and upgrading facilities, technology for elementary and middle school classrooms and professional development opportunities for employees. We then gathered input on how to prioritize those needs through surveys and meetings with various groups. While each of these is a true need of the school division, according to the feedback received the top priority is compensation and benefits for employees. This came as no surprise since annual teacher pay increases have not occurred over the past five years. The School Board and I are fully supportive of a step increase for our teachers and a two-percent salary increase for all of our other employees, but the final decision is not ours. Isle of Wight County Schools is not a self-funded entity and we are fiscally dependent on our locality to provide us with the funding that we need to operate our school division. We understand that the county is facing their own financial challenges, yet still hope they are able to provide us with the necessary funding for fiscal year 2015—but hope is not a strategy. My team and I have truly put forth an effort to increase efficiency within the schools, yet we are still facing a $1.6 million gap. This deficit is due in part because of the mandate from the Virginia Retirement System rate increase, which totals approximately $846,000. Other factors include sequestration, military downsizing and healthcare rate increases.

The budget that I have proposed is the true cost of operating this school division, and unfortunately there are no more loops on our belt to tighten within the budget. We strive to be fiscally responsible year-round and are conscious about the financial decisions that are made on a daily basis. Despite relatively stable enrollment, our average Per Pupil Spending has decreased overall in recent years. As of fiscal year 2012, state reports show that IWCS ranks eleventh in Per Pupil Expenditures out of all school divisions in Region II. Although we are ranked eleventh in expenditures, we are fourth in the region in terms of academics. Instruction has always been and will remain our focus as we move forward in the budget process. As division superintendent, it is my fiduciary responsibility to prepare a budget that meets the needs of Isle of Wight County Schools and it is my duty to prepare every student for educational excellence, but I cannot do it alone. The foundation of this school division is the people—our dedicated teachers and employees who continue to give their all to our students. Without our employees, we would not be able to provide our students with the high quality education necessary for success in college, career and citizenship. Our employees have been very loyal and supportive to Isle of Wight County Schools and I commend them for their continued dedication to our students. In order for our school division to continue progressing forward they also deserve to have the resources and tools necessary to do their jobs. My team and I are committed to continue communicating and collaborating with county administrators, staff and community stakeholders to meet the needs of the school division so that our students can continue to receive the high quality education they deserve.

​My proposed budget presentation can be found on the division website,, under the Budget Central section. I invite you to take a look and send any questions you may have to Thank you for your continued support of IWCS.

KATRISE PERERA is the superintendent of Isle of Wight County Public Schools. She can be contacted at 357-4393.