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County Schools Face Possible State Cuts

Halifax County Public Schools could be facing a reduction of $150,000 or more in state revenue, school board members were told during their regular monthly meeting Thursday night in Halifax.

Chief Financial Officer Bill Covington told the board lower sales taxes collected by the state is the source of the potential reduction.

“Sales tax is not something the state promises you,” Covington said. “It’s based on true collections.”

That money would come out of this year’s school budget, he explained to the board. So far, the school system has not received any of the local appropriation of more than $13,000,000 from the county, Covington said.

Board member Walter Potts expressed concern over the budget for the 2010-2011 school year in the face of the possible reduction in state funding this year.

Covington said the state economy could begin its rebound, and sales tax figures could improve, but if that doesn’t happen, the amount of state funding based upon sales tax figures could be revised down again.

“You could lose more than the $150,000 before the year’s over,” explained Superintendent Paul Stapleton. “Right now it’s about $150,000, but if the sales tax keeps dropping that’s going to be readjusted again maybe two more times before the end of the budget year.

“So you could lose more money from Virginia sales tax out of this year’s budget, not even projected into next year,” Stapleton added. “Budgeting right now for school systems in the state of Virginia is a very complicated process.”

Board Chairman Steve Anderson said there are some school divisions in the commonwealth that are beginning to work on next year’s budget.

“Those school divisions that are into budgeting already are  going to fall back on their localities to make up their budget deficits,” the superintendent said. “In Halifax, as well as just about every rural county in the state, you don’t have that luxury. You’re not going to have a pot of money at the local level that you can fall back on.”

Covington said the “wealthier” school divisions, because of their 80 percent composite index, get 80 percent of their funding from their locality and 20 percent from the state. “They’re not relatively concerned about what the state budget is compared to the locality,” Covington said. “We’re the opposite of that.”

“The majority of your money comes from the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Stapleton said. “Those school systems that the majority of their money comes from the commonwealth, these budget cuts now at the state level are devastating.”

Potts said with the reduction of $300,000 this budget year from the county and the impending reduction in state funding of $150,000 or more, the school system is down about $450,000 going into preparations for the 2010-2011 budget.

“We’re looking at some serious issues coming up in how we’re going to make up the difference if the local governing body does not step up and do something to help alleviate some of these questions,” Potts said.

In other business Thursday night, Tom Ramsey of Davenport Energy presented $750 grants to Sydnor Jennings Elementary School and South Boston Elementary School. The ExxonMobil Educational Alliance awarded the grants to provide Exxon and Mobil distributors and retailers an opportunity to invest in the future of their communities, according to Bruce Gilbert, director of operations for customer service and training for Davenport Energy.

On behalf of the Virginia School Board Association (VSBA), Superintendent Stapleton presented VSBA awards of excellence to board members Joe Gasperini, Dr. Roger Long and Arthur Reynolds.

Dr. Long, reporting to the board on the VSBA Conference, said school system employees across the state could be asked in the future to pay their own costs to the Virginia Retirement System (VRS).

Long said because of the downturn in the economy, VRS suffered 21 percent loss in investment returns. Currently 68 percent of VRS benefits are funded by investments, and 32 percent are funded by contributions from the employees.

Currently the school system pays the employees’ portion of their 10 percent contribution to the retirement system. The state is expected to reduce teachers’ VRS funding by $51.3 million, thereby making it necessary for employees to pay their own costs in the future. Also, Long said retirement age will increase to 60 years of age and 30 years of experience. The current retirement provision is 50 years of age with 30 years of experience.

Also under the reports portion of Thursday’s meeting, Director of Maintenance Larry Roller reported on the activities of his department over the past month.

Prior to adjourning, the board went into executive session to discuss student discipline and personnel matters.

The school board will hold its November meeting at Clays Mill Elementary School.