CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WRIC) — The Chesterfield County School Board has voted to adopt a $900 million budget for the coming year, cementing its support for major investments despite uncertainty over some important revenue sources.
The board voted unanimously at its Feb. 22 meeting to adopt the proposed budget, sending it to the Board of Supervisors for final approval.
While a little over $60 million in funding comes through food service and grants, the $837 million proposed operating budget is where the biggest changes have been made, with $76 million added from a combination of state and local sources.
The biggest increase – around $60 million – went to funding a series of planned pay increases for teachers and staff, designed to help address a staffing shortage that’s affected school divisions nationwide.
That will ensure an 8% pay increase for veteran teachers and an attempt to reduce ‘pay compression,’ a problem where experienced teachers don’t make much more than their junior colleagues, causing them to leave for school divisions that reward long-serving job applicants.
But while the School board managed to reduce their deficit from $23 million in an earlier version of the budget, the proposal still fell short by about $8 million. That’s in spite of cuts to infrastructure investments and other key priorities.
Part of the problem is that Chesterfield still doesn’t know exactly how much funding it will get from the state this year.
“The House proposal appears to be flat to slightly negative to us, given some of their reductions in revenue,” said CCPS Chief Financial Officer Bob Meister. “While the Senate proposal suggests approximately a $6 million increase.”
The House has been controlled by Republicans since last year’s election, which also swept Gov. Glenn Youngkin into office, while the Senate remains under Democratic control.
Meister added that the County expected an increase of about $3 million when all is said and done, about halfway between the two versions.
Hearing from the Public
One item that was cut to make up the shortfall was a $3 million dollar grant for a ‘Hard-to-staff School’ stipend to boost recruitment in some understaffed schools.
One parent sent in a comment online, expressing support for keeping the new initiatives, “All of the expenses seem required. Cutting items of concern out may undercut issues that need fixing.”
But the meeting on Tuesday was sparsely attended, with just one public speaker appearing to give his two cents in person.
“It’s my hope as a community that we treat our public educators better than we have in the past few months,” said Michael Garabinas, a Chesterfield parent and regular attendee of the often contentious board meetings.
Board member Debbie Bailey thanked Garabinas for coming to the meeting, and said she wished more residents would take an interest in the budget process, “I find it interesting that people flock to some of our meetings, and the ones that are actually what I consider critically important – the budget – they don’t come with anything to say.”
The board also improved a Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) that outlines the division’s major construction projects through 2026.
Some of the projects were actually delayed because of the pandemic, but the $375 million bond referendum that will be key to funding the ambitious projects will finally go before voters this November.
“Two years ago, right before the pandemic, we were poised to propose a 2020 bond referendum,” said County Administrator Joe Casey. He added that the county was now in a much more secure financial situation, and had been able to secure favorable terms.
The CIP would require the county to construct or re-construct a number of schools as the division anticipates thousands more students over the next decade.