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Glimmer Of Hope Appears On Horizon For School System

Halifax County school officials are keeping their fingers crossed as the two houses of the Virginia General Assembly fashion and prune their individual versions of the state budget.

The initial promising news out of Richmond is both the Senate and the House versions of the budget restore all or part of the funding lost through the adjustment of the Local Composite Index (LCI), according to Bill Covington, Halifax County Public Schools chief financial officer.

Governor Bob McDonnell recently announced the LCI would not be frozen at its current level for the next fiscal year as recommended by his predecessor, Governor Timothy Kaine. That meant an additional budget shortfall of nearly $1.5 million ($1,487,093) for Halifax County Public Schools.

Covington said Tuesday the House version of the budget would restore 80 percent of the amount lost for one year of the biennial state budget. That would amount to $1,189,674 for Halifax County.

Delegate James Edmunds confirmed those figures Tuesday. “It’s complicated, but yes, it restored about $1.189 million,” Edmunds said.

“Our overall goal is to do everything we can to protect teaching positions,” the delegate added.

The Senate version of the budget would restore 100 percent of the amount lost for both years of the biennial state budget, Covington said.

Senator Frank Ruff said the Senate version of the bill is friendlier to public schools. “The House proposal effectively held the cuts to those similar to Governor Kaine’s,” Ruff explained.  “The Senate version effectively appears slightly more generous.”

Ruff said the poorer rural areas of the state have benefited over the years from the composite index method of determining the level of funding for localities. “We have lived and died by the composite index,” he said. “And it has come to hurt us.”

State funding for the current fiscal year is $38,080,899. Edmunds said according to the House version of the budget, state funding for Halifax County schools for the next fiscal year would be $33,760,955, resulting in a shortfall of $4,319,944 for the local school system.

“There’s nowhere to go but up,” Edmunds said.

School officials projected the “worst-case scenario” would mean a budget shortfall of $7.2 million. Ruff agreed, saying, “This could have been a lot worse.”

After the Senate and House of Delegates approve their individual state budgets, conferees from each house will meet to iron out a consensus budget to present to Governor McDonnell.

“It’s going to be somewhere in the middle,” said Edmunds. “And I’m hoping it gets better for our schools.”