WJCC School Board seeks $5M increase in a ‘budget of need’

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The James City County Board of Supervisors, Williamsburg City Council and Williamsburg-James City County School Board discussed the superintendent's proposed budget March 17. (Sarah Fearing/WYDaily)
The James City County Board of Supervisors, Williamsburg City Council and Williamsburg-James City County School Board discussed the superintendent’s proposed budget March 17. (Sarah Fearing/WYDaily)

With budget season in full-swing, the Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools’ 2018 budget — and its proposed increase of nearly $5 million — is on the table.

Changing community dynamics, including more students with disabilities and students who speak English as a second language, are some key reasons the schools seek an increase, officials said.

The Williamsburg-James City County School Board met Friday morning to discuss the fiscal year 2018 budget during a joint meeting with the James City County Board of Supervisors and Williamsburg City Council.

Superintendent Olwen Herron described the proposed operating budget, which asks for a 3.5 percent increase of $4.7 million, as a “budget of need.”

“We built the neighborhoods. The people came here because of the quality of the education,” James City County Supervisor Ruth Larson said. “So we’ve got to pay the piper… At some point, we’ve got to make a decision as a community that we’re really going to back education, and that we’re all in.”

The schools’ proposed $132 million asks for funding increases for several “non-negotiable” items, including four special education teachers, two special education aides, one English as a second language teacher and a principal for the new James Blair Middle School.

“We are a high-performing school division, but we are also one that is changing with regard to the students we serve,” Herron said, adding that four percent of the student population is homeless and 33 percent quality for free and reduced lunch.

Non-negotiable expenses also include increases to employer contributions to the Virginia Retirement System and health insurance plans.

The budget is not set in stone, and the total local funding request may change before School Board members vote on it later this month, School Board Chair Kyra Cook said.

The school division is also expected to have 28 new children enroll in the 2018 school year, bringing the student population up to 11,459, according to budget documents. The cost per pupil is $11,523, School Board member Jim Kelly said.

(Courtesy WJCC Public Schools)
(Courtesy WJCC Public Schools)

Williamsburg and James City County contribute almost 65 percent of funds in WJCC Schools’ budget, according to budget documents. Of the requested budget increase, $3.7 million would come from localities.

To fund the School Board’s entire budget request, James City County supervisors would need to raise the real estate tax rate by 1.45 cents, Board of Supervisors Chairman Kevin Onizuk said.

James City County’s current real estate tax rate is 84 cents per $100 of assessed property value.

“That’s a big jump,” Onizuk said. “Those dollars don’t just magically appear, and there are a lot more needs than dollars.”

“It’s like your own purse at home, and how much money you have in it determines how much you can do,” James City County Supervisor Michael Hipple said.

While supervisors and council members discussed different ways to address the requested budget increase, members from all groups agreed on one issue: A long-running, gradual decrease in funding on the state level.

“We need to get together to work to push Richmond to start funding us better,” Hipple said, adding that state funding for localities has also not increased much since 2009.

Williamsburg Mayor Paul Freiling agreed the state’s budgetary decisions have a strong impact on the local level, but encouraged officials to focus on the “local arena,” where they have control.

WJCC students built a model of the new James Blair Middle School, which was displayed at Fridays joint budget meeting with the School Board, Board of Supervisors, and City Council. Sarah Fearing/WYDaily)
WJCC students built a model of the new James Blair Middle School, which was displayed at Fridays joint budget meeting with the School Board, Board of Supervisors, and City Council. Sarah Fearing/WYDaily)

He also added that the state’s economy cannot successfully grow with an undereducated work force.

“Students with developmental disabilities, if we don’t invest in them now, they’ll end up costing the commonwealth more in the long run,” Freiling said.

The joint meeting also included the school division’s 2018 Capital Improvement Plan, which includes a $2.7 million roof replacement at Lafayette High School, $1.3 million exterior masonry repairs at Clara Byrd Baker Elementary, electrical equipment and auditorium seating replacements at Berkeley Middle School and several other repair and updating projects at various schools.

Project managers also gave updates on the build status of the new James Blair Middle School and the Lafayette auxiliary gym at the meeting Friday morning. Both are expected to be open and operable by fall 2018.

Fearing may be reached at sarah.f@localvoicemedia.com.