Lynchburg school board discusses proposed budget at workshop

A school board workshop Thursday provided a snapshot of the needs and priorities for Lynchburg City Schools as the division prepares to submit its budget request for the 2017-18 school year to Lynchburg City Council.

The LCS request for local funding is $42.1 million, a proposed increase of more than $3.5 million over its 2016-17 budget request.

Priorities include pay raises for employees, additional teaching and support staff, covering increases in operating costs for the division and for the Virginia Retirement System, and tuition costs to add 18 more LCS slots at the Central Virginia Governor’s School for Science and Technology.

LCS Superintendent Scott Brabrand referred to the proposal as a “needs-based budget.”

The proposal brings the total operating budget for the division to more than $97.7 million, up from the 2016-17 adopted operating budget of $93 million, With a little more than $2.5 million requested for capital projects, the overall budget request for the 2017-18 school year is $100.3 million. Of the budget requests discussed Tuesday, $2.2 million was labeled as mandatory, and $1.2 million was designated as Tier 1, which is considered among the top budget priorities for the division.

The largest single item in the mandatory budget request is the increased costs for the Virginia Retirement System rates, which is estimated to cost the division $571,959. Among the Tier 1 requests, the largest item is $518,271 for a salary increase for instructional assistants and teacher aides.

Some school board members were quick to highlight their priorities while others simply collected information at Tuesday’s meeting. One proposal that came under fire was the 18 additional Governor’s Schools slots, which would bring the total number of LCS spaces reserved up to 60.

Members Regina Dolan-Sewell and James Coleman both stated they would not support the request for $84,600 to add Governor’s Schools slots as proposed in the budget for the next school year because they felt there were other opportunities for students that were underfunded by comparison.

“I would like to see a win-win budget,” Coleman said. “In order for there to be a win-win budget, the needs for equity, opportunity and engagement — in that order — have to be satisfied.”

Board member Susan Morrison stopped short of saying she wouldn’t support any proposed items in the budget but emphasized a need to focus on salaries over funding new hires and programs.

“I just think that we, as a board, need to look at every penny that we have in our budget that we can put toward salaries,” Morrison said.

LCS Chief Financial Officer Anthony Beckles noted if City Council does not approve the $2.2 million in mandatory requests in the proposed budget, then cuts will be severe.

The proposed budget will come before the school board in January for consideration. If the board approves the proposal, the request for funding will move to City Council for approval.

School board member Derek Polley stated if City Council members prioritized not raising taxes over funding division needs, then it was important to hold them accountable for the status quo.

Brabrand noted at the joint meeting of the school board and City Council in November that City Council had sent the division the message it needs to improve at a faster pace.

“I can’t move faster with less,” Brabrand said. “You want to move faster, I need more.”

Beckles noted tweaks to the proposed budget still could come if state funding shifts in the proposed Virginia budget to be released by Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s office Friday.

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