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Shortfall estimate refigured

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Preliminary number for public schools increased for fiscal 2012

By J.R. Williams-jrwilliams@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- The finance director for Winchester Public Schools has tweaked the division's fiscal 2012 shortfall estimate, based on preliminary information, to $2,234,787.

The figure, reported to School Board members during a meeting Monday night, is slightly up from what the panel saw at a work session last week and is based on Gov. Bob
McDonnell's amendments to the biennial budget for fiscal 2012 and 2013.

How much the school system ultimately will have to cut almost certainly will change as competing versions of the budget are formed and revised by the Virginia General Assembly.

"The governor's version is the first shot on this," said Superintendent Ricky Leonard.

The cuts come amid increased enrollment. While enrollment in schools statewide is projected to decrease, Winchester schools are growing as more pupils enter the elementary level, according to a report from Linda Meadows, finance director.

Average daily enrollment in the division is expected to increase from 3,720 to 3,800 pupils in fiscal 2012. School system expenditures are estimated at $46,638,111, with total revenue falling behind at $44,403,324.

Leonard said the division is asking for flexibility in how to spend money funded by the state lottery to specific programs, specifically the Virginia Preschool Initiative and K-3 primary class size reduction funds.

About $71,000 in lottery funds for textbooks is budgeted, a figure Leonard called inadequate.

"That's no where near what is needed for maintenance of textbooks, to adopt textbooks and then new textbooks for new courses," he said. "We run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars for that," he said.

The division also is grappling with changes to benefits through the Virginia Retirement System. School Board members have the option of requiring employees to pay a 5 percent employee share as long as salaries are increased at least 3 percent, according to Meadows' report.

Budget negotiations are expected in the General Assembly, which convenes Wednesday, over the next 60 days, Leonard said.

"We're hoping they have a decision by Feb. 26," Leonard said, but noted there is a follow-up session scheduled for April. "We're just beginning the process."

The City Council also must decide how much it will contribute to the school system. School officials have built their budget under the assumption that the city's contribution will be the same as last year.

School Board Chairman Barry L. Deuel said the budget situation could be worse.

"We're in better posture than where we've been, but we're a long way from being home," he said.

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