You can’t please everyone

Published 8:28 am Friday, May 29, 2015

As outlined on the front page of today’s paper, the Southampton County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an annual budget that will allocate a significantly smaller amount of money to the Southampton County Public School district than requested for next year.

A look at final budget shows that the school system requested $31.1 million, a modest decrease from the $31.2 million budget from the year prior. As reported, the board approved a budget that allocated only $30.5 million — a difference of roughly $600,000.

Delving further, you’ll see that the specific distribution of funds for instruction jumped more than $1.4 million from 2014 to 2015. Southampton County reaped the property tax benefits associated with the commencement of operations by Enviva and AMAC Leasing LLC and an increase in state funding specifically earmarked for Southampton County Public Schools to the tune of a overall county budget increase of $3.75 million.

In turn, the school hired a new kindergarten teacher at Riverdale Elementary, a new fifth-grade teacher, new elementary physical education and music teachers, new math and science teachers at the middle school, a new information technology technician and purchased five new buses. Several of the school’s personnel also received a 2 percent cost of living adjustment and a 1 percent mandated salary increase toward the Virginia Retirement System.

But as County Administrator Michael W. Johnson said in the budget’s introductory message, “The Commonwealth giveth; the Commonwealth taketh away.”

The board projected significant growth for the first time in six years with the 2015 budget, and an increased revenue allocation to the school system for the first time in three years, only to have the income fall short due to lower student enrollment numbers than expected.

Because the school’s actual population is 100 students fewer than expected by the Virginia Department of Education, Southampton County lost $892,000 in state revenue.

Local revenues were able to plug some holes, but obviously not enough. That means that one year after Southampton County Public Schools hired seven new staff members and purchased five brand new school buses, the district must now find a way to manage with less money.

Sadly, this trend will only continue.

Projections show that daily membership will continue to decline at Southampton schools. Stating only 2,537 students will roam the halls in 2016, the school system stands to lose more than $1 million in state revenue next year.

When that date comes, from where will the money that funds the schools come?

Vice Chairman Ronald West said on Tuesday that the county has no new money to offer, and that raising the real estate or personal property tax would be the only way to supplement the loss in revenue. Most board members wanted to avoid that at all costs, save Carl Faison, who supported a 1-cent tax increase.

But sooner or later, taxes are going to have to be increased. State revenues are coming down, and the county continues to increase its budget, to which Dr. Alan Edwards alluded.

“We’ve made up the difference every year, but you get to the point where you can’t make up the difference,” he said.

Quite simply, those two factors don’t coincide with sustainability. In order to create viable practice, the county must find a way to create additional revenue, be it through increasing taxes or making the community more attractive to businesses and aggressively pursing industrial expansion, for which board member Barry Porter pleaded.

Porter, whom I mentioned was visibly upset when speaking about the uphill climb that the county and school system is tasked with, at least offered an alternate solution that didn’t involve raising taxes or keeping with the status quo — although it would also take money that the county doesn’t have.

In the end, you can’t please everyone. It’s easy to blame the state for the lack of funds, but these are Southampton Schools; not Virginia schools, as Faison said. The blame could just as easily be placed on the county and the school district for spending so much one year ago, despite the fact that there was no assurance that the additional means by which they came would be anything more than an anomaly.

The county and its citizens need to look out for its schools, and that’s why increasing taxes by a few cents to offset the loss of funds shouldn’t be an afterthought — it should be done now. Otherwise, it’s not our pocketbooks that suffer… it’s the children.

Andrew Lind is a staff writer at The Tidewater News. He can be reached at 562-3187 or by emailing