In Mayor Stoney’s proposed budget for Richmond Public Schools, he certified the district’s ~$12.5M fund balance from the previous year as a “one-time” increase to the district’s funds. Stoney has cited the logic that there is a new Superintendent, a strategic vision plan needs to be implemented, and the district should be spending all of it’s dollars before asking for more money. Also part of the mayor’s budget was $1.5M for maintenance funds and of course the meals tax to borrow money to be able to start building new schools. Since the $12.5M is a “one-time” amount of money, school board was hesitant to approve Superintendent Kamras’s original proposal for the use of funds because it included new positions that were being paid for with money they would not be guaranteed the following year. At the school board meeting on June 4th, Kamras’s team presented a different version of the budget that minimized the number of recurring expenses included. The school board voted to approve this version of the budget. Just because they minimized the number of recurring expenses does not mean they were all eliminated which positions RPS for a potential gap they need to make up for the next fiscal year. So what is that potential gap? And, even more importantly… what line items are driving that potential gap?
The budget included a 2% raise for all contracted employees and a 6% raise in healthcare costs for a total increase of $5,600,000. In addition, there was a decrease in the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) rate of $500,000 so the net impact to the district will be $5,100,000. The district does not anticipate the healthcare cost to increase next year nor do they expect the decrease in VRS so the only recurring expense is the 2% raise. With the budget recently passed through the state, the district is projecting about half of the cost of the 2% raise to be paid for by the state in Fiscal Year 20 (FY20). This means when we look to FY20, there is $1,900,000 that the district would be responsible for that could be of concern as a potential gap.
The staffing budget included increasing staffing by adding 5 ESL teachers, 9 bilingual support staff, 3 bilingual counselors, and 1 internal auditor for a grand total cost of $1,225,000. To offset this cost, the district eliminated 20 non-instructional full-time positions that were vacant at a cost of $1,200,000 which brings the net impact in the budget to $25,000.
The budget category includes a mix of one-time expenses and recurring expenses but is by far the largest group of budget expenses proposed for the $12.5M. The one-time expenses are new costs including $400,000 for pilot programs (“living room chats,” trauma-informed care practices, and restorative justice practices), $500,000 for athletic equipment, $300,000 for a one year athletic trainer contract, $400,000 for a one year dedicated nurses for students with disabilities, and $395,122 for the local retirement plan payment. These new one-time expenses total $1,495,122. There is one new recurring expense of $500,000 for a 10% increase in bus driver and bus monitor salaries. Two other recurring expenses are $800,000 for transfers (read: tuitions) for RPS students to attend programs such as Patrick Henry, Code RVA, Maggie Walker, Appomattox, etc. and $3,710,678 toward already committed programs such as the Arthur Ashe Center, Virtual Virginia, etc. Of the $5,010,678 in recurring expenses from this category, only $500,000 are new costs the school board added to the budget.
When we look at the concern of using one-time funding to cover recurring expenses, the total amount is about $6,910,678 which is a little over half of the total re-allocation. Of that $6.9M, only $1.9M is for the teacher salary raises and $500,000 is for bus driver/bus monitor raises for a total of $2.4M. The rest of the money is to pay for programs that have already been in place. This summer RPS is undergoing yet another audit of their budget which should identify any potential efficiencies and cuts that need to be made. In addition, the strategic vision process is currently underway. So while using the one time funds for closing the gap on current year costs and programs may not be ideal, it is a decision of last resort for a school district stretched thin on funding for improving academic outcomes in addition to decaying buildings. I am sure there will be a lot of criticism for these decisions by the School Board but that is why I believe it is important to understand what exactly will drive next year’s gap. I have already heard one council member point to salary increases and new positions being created; however, they simultaneously ignore the cuts. These are discussions I believe should be happening during the education compact meetings. Educating everyone on the facts instead of allowing space for misinterpretation, assumption, and confusion.