New school budget format in place prior to public hearing

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The Botetourt County School Board will take comments on its proposed $50,291,048 general fund budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year (FY18) during a public hearing Thursday, March 23 at 5 p.m. in the School Administration Office in Fincastle.

The School Board sent the proposed budget to public hearing after a final budget committee meeting last week.

The proposed budget didn’t change any from what was discussed the week before— essentially it is “flat,” with virtually no increases in total revenue expected and no expected increase in total expenditures.

The proposed FY18 budget does include a number of adjustments from the current budget because of another expected decline in enrollment in the next school year.

The final proposed budget does include an accounting adjustment that removes the school’s debt service out of the school budget and puts it in the overall county budget— a move that was recommended by the school division auditors. It doesn’t change the amount of debt service that is payment on school construction.

The school administration also removed some expected revenue from renting school facilities out of the budget because it’s not guaranteed revenue.

The nearly $50.3 million operating budget does not include self-sustaining funds such as school lunches, pass-through funds, textbook funds and capital reserve funds that total almost $6.9 million. The total budget with those funds is $57,176,342.

One thing the public will be able to do more easily is get an explanation of the proposed budget in a line-item format that has been posted on the school division website (http://www.bcps.k12.va.us/).

Director of Administration and Finance James Lyons presented his revised budget outline to the School Board budget committee last week with the hope it will make it easier for the public to understand the school budget.

Superintendent John Busher wanted a more easily understood budget for the public after getting comments from the public about the complicated nature of school funding and expenditures. As an example, he said, under state reporting requirements, elementary school expenses include kindergarten through seventh grade, not just through fifth grade.

So, the new budget format includes explanations on each type of revenue and explanations about expenditures in notes that are included with the budget pages.

The 47-page updated format also shows the past two years of actual spending compared to the current year’s budget request and the FY18 budget request.

The budget also includes an executive summary that explains the school division priorities and how the school division reached its proposed budget.

That summary says, “As a premier school division, BCPS (Botetourt County Public Schools) continues to invest heavily in its most valuable assets, teachers, while maintaining the operational funding support required to provide top notch instructional programs and opportunities for its students.

“Enrollment has steadily declined over the past several years, with FY 2017-2018 projected Average Daily Membership (ADM) sitting at 4,435. This is significantly lower than the original FY 2016-2017 projection of 4,600 and continues the decline in enrollment that has been projected for a number of years.

“This decline in enrollment has a significant impact on revenue as March ADM figures are used by the state to calculate annual revenue amounts. Due to the decline in enrollment, state revenue for FY 2017-2018 is expected to remain virtually flat compared to FY 2016-2017 despite a number of increased funding initiatives provided by the General Assembly.

“In addition to this, local funding support from Botetourt County is expected to stay level after a significant increase during FY 2016-2017 budget development. Ultimately, overall revenue for FY 2017-2018 is projected to be virtually identical to FY 2016-2017.

“Faced with flat revenue and more than $1.5 million worth of additional expenditure needs, BCPS staff had to make a concerted effort to scour the budget for savings opportunities, both in personnel and operations. Due again to decreased enrollment projections, 11 positions were identified to be taken from the classification plan, generating nearly $1 million worth of savings. Individual operating budgets within the division’s functional areas were reviewed with more than $250,000 of savings identified, primarily in the areas of fuel, vehicle maintenance, and technology.

“This critical evaluation of personnel and operational needs allowed for BCPS staff to free up enough budgetary dollars to provide much needed compensation adjustments. The FY 2017-2018 budget provides for one step on the pay scale for all eligible classified and certificated personnel; a 2 percent increase for administrative personnel; and ongoing step corrections for nearly 350 positions. All of this is in addition to the mandated cost increase due to Virginia Retirement System (VRS) rate adjustments.

“In addition to compensation funding, the FY 2017-2018 operating budget provides for the purchase of six school buses under the lease-purchase format that was successfully used in FY 2016-2017. Regional Program funding was also increased due to the addition of one program slot and operational funding for schools was maintained. Health insurance costs were mitigated through plan design changes, allowing the division to keep an excellent health insurance benefit that remains free to the employee for individual coverage.

“Overall, the FY 2017-2018 Proposed Budget addresses a significant number of needs within the division that are critical for maintaining its standing as a top-tier public school system. More than $1.5 million of additional expenditure needs were addressed without any substantive increase in state or local revenue. This was accomplished by critically evaluating and prioritizing ongoing expenditures and personnel needs and identifying areas for savings.

“The end result is a solid, structurally sound budget that continues to support the division’s Six-Year Plan in the most fiscally responsible manner possible,” the budget executive summary says.

— Ed McCoy

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