IOW public can comment on school budget

Published 11:37 am Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Isle of Wight County residents can comment today on the school system’s proposed $61.5 million budget. Following a 5 p.m. workshop — which will include filling the recently vacated Newport district seat — the hearing begins at 6 p.m., with both sessions in Windsor Elementary School.

During last Thursday’s board meeting, Superintendent Dr. Katrise Perera made her plea for next fiscal year’s budget. Her audience then was made up mostly of board members, fellow school administrators and principals. On Monday, she restated her case before the public.

“It’s time we look at our fiscal stewardship,” Perera said last week, and began quoting from Virginia code 22.1-92: “It shall be the duty of each division superintendent to prepare…the estimate of the amount of money deemed to be needed during the next fiscal year for the support of the public schools of the school division.”

The budget priorities will be instruction staffing, technology staffing, school bus replacement and facilities/maintenance, respectively. These were established in a hierarchy during a workshop last fall, but she said the other day, “They’re all, to me, number one.”

Commenting on a few of those items, Perera said, “This board has prioritized instruction always. It’s what we’re all about.”

She noted the school system uses 13,000 devices, which include TVs, laptops, cameras, overhead projectors and computers. When it comes to funding school bus purchases, “the days of lottery profits devoted schools is long gone…if you have a leaky room, you disrupt the learning process.”

In a chart showing historical funding, the superintendent pointed out that as a Composite Index — which determines a locality’s ability to pay — increases, state revenues decrease.

As for per-pupil expenditures, Perera noted that the federal amount in 2011 was $1,379; for 2016 it was $724.

“Seven-hundred twenty-four dollars is not going to cut it,” she said. “They [the federal government] certainly do send a lot of mandates, but without support.”

Comparing per-pupil expenses to other school systems in the region, Isle of Wight is at $10,000 for each student; Franklin is at $12, 600; Southampton at $12,420; and Williamsburg/Jamestown at nearly $11,000; the state average is $11,2500.

In her view, “I’d say Isle of Wight taxpayers got a really good return on their investment.”

Enrollment has increased over the years. There were less than 5,000 students in 2004; now there are 5,400.

She asked, “Is our funding going up? No.”

In General Fund appropriations, there’s been a total 5 percent increase from 2014 to 2016.

Then there are unknown variables with which to contend: local economic challenges; a shift of capital funding to operating budget; and sequestration, which can have future potential grant reductions.

“I shouldn’t have to choose between a classroom being appropriately staffed and making a roof repair. I should not. To have a bus or have two more teachers? Those are kids, and that’s my fiduciary responsibility and the board’s fiduciary responsibility.”

There are tough choices ahead, Perera said.

Staff salary increases and group life insurance; health insurance rates, which have to go up; additional classroom and instructional support; and CIP needs versus General Operating Funding Requirement.

The effects of making those decisions can include delays in updating instructional resources; increased student/teacher ratios, which she particularly dislikes; less take-home pay; maintenance and upkeep of buildings.

“What’s good for here is ultimately good for our state and our nation,” Perera said in conclusion. “Fiscal stewardship is our future.”