School board revises budgetary request

Published 10:01 am Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Southampton County Public School Board on Monday evening adopted a revised operating budget for the 2016-2017 school year. The district was previously seeking in excess of $30 million — up 6.67 percent ($1,878,526) from the amount allocated by the Southampton County Board of Supervisors last year — but lowered its request to $29,472,457 to fall within the numbers allocated in the county’s proposed budget.

“It’s something we feel like we can work with going forward,” said school board vice chairman Jim Pope, who also leads the district’s budget committee.

In addition to funding normal operations, the board’s initial request would have supported the hiring of nine teachers, two specialists, two custodians, an athletic trainer, a guidance counselor and a librarian.

Those objectives are no longer listed in the revised budget request that was provided to The Tidewater News on Tuesday.

The biggest challenge facing the school board in recent years is how it can manage with less funding, as both state and local revenues have continuously decreased since 2009. State revenue was more than $19.35 million that year, but shrunk to only $17.27 million last year — a decline of $2.08 million.

“If local revenues were available to plug the gap, I’d have included them,” county administrator Mike Johnson said last May, “but they’re not.”

The supervisors mulled adopting a 2 percent tax increase last year to help supplement the shortfall, but ultimately decided against it. The county is proposing a 5 percent real estate tax increase, a $5 vehicle license tax increase and a $1 increase in water and sewer fees to balance the upcoming budget.

“[We’re] playing catch-up,” Johnson said. “Despite the fact that there’s never a good time to raise taxes or fees, we’ve unfortunately reached a point where expected levels of service are unsustainable without additional revenue. Absent substantial growth in the tax base from new private investment and job creation, rate increases are the only means of generating additional revenue. Following several years of lean operating budgets and utilization of capital project reserves, we’re forced to play catch-up.”

Southampton Superintendent Dr. Alvera J. Parrish, whose tenure has been overshadowed by the county’s budgetary struggles, said that the district’s priorities remain the same as every year despite the lack of funding.

“[We] want to continue to replace personnel to address student achievement to give [our] students continuous opportunities to achieve and reach that level of excellence moving forward,” she said.