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Williamsburg-James City County Schools are heading into the next fiscal year more than $4 million less than it requested from James City County and the City of Williamsburg.
The WJCC School Board adopted a $134.5 million budget for fiscal year 2016 at its meeting Tuesday night. More than $124 million of that budget is operating expenditures, including employee salaries and instructional funding.
The adopted budget for fiscal year 2016, which begins July 1, represents a 2.4 percent increase over last year’s total budget, and a 2.3 percent increase in operating funds.
Although the number has increased, the final total was less than what the school division hoped for. The budget adopted by the James City County Board of Supervisors provided the school division with about $610,000 less than what they had requested, while Williamsburg’s budget included about $108,000 less than requested.
The picture was similar for WJCC’s capital improvement plan, which outlines spending on large dollar construction projects in the school division. The division’s capital requests topped $30 million, including $25.8 million for phase one of its fourth middle school.
The county and city have included slightly more than $27 million of that request, including about $23.6 million for the fourth middle school project.
The joint schools contract, which governs the funding of the school division, lays out a 90.5 percent-9.5 percent split between the county and city for operational funding responsibility of the schools, but does not specify a funding formula for new school construction, leaving it to the two localities to negotiate a split.
Constantino said he was in talks with Williamsburg City Manager Jack Tuttle and County Administrator Bryan Hill, and both had expressed confidence to him the middle school funding issue would be resolved.
Board members were quick to point the disparity between what the school division initially requested and what the city and county were willing to provide.
“We’re in this position because James City County didn’t fully fund our funding request,” said Kyra Cook (City of Williamsburg).
School Board Chairman Jim Kelly (Jamestown) said it was important to consider the shortfalls in both the budget and capital requests to understand the magnitude of financial situation.
“We requested $30 million in capital and we got $27 million in capital, so our capital budget, which was a source of a lot of angst, was not fully funded,” Kelly said. “Our operational budget was not fully funded, so if you want to add those two numbers together, we’re really down about $4.1 million from what we requested.”
With the shortfall in the division’s original proposed budget and the local funding provided, Superintendent Steve Constantino said the board had to amend its approved budget to reflect the new fiscal reality.
WJCC Chief Financial Officer Christina Berta presented recommendations for cuts to the original budget proposal that would reflect the current funding situation.
Berta said the school division had to cut its original budget by at least $126,703 to come in line with the approved local funding numbers. This included positive adjustments to revenue projections, the reduction of a technology refresh by $100,000 to $605,000, a decrease in the number of new teacher positions from nine to seven, and a cut to the number of new school buses purchased from five to three.
Other cuts included the elimination of a paid psychology intern position, which would save $16,500, and reducing the amount of additional funding for targeted tuition assistance, which helps teachers further their education, by half to $37,500.
If the school board wished to go ahead with the purchase of five school buses, Berta said it would need to cut and additional $500,000 to cover the costs.
Constantino said a decision did not have to be made Tuesday night, but said if it came down to hiring more teachers or replacing buses, he would advocate for hiring the teachers.
“If it turns out that the nine teachers are needed, I would most likely come back to you in August and recommend that money be transferred into those two positions, and we don’t purchase those new buses,” Constantino said. “Conversely, if not, then we go ahead and make the purchase.”