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Posted December 21, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

Area schools eye state budget proposals

By Alex Bridges

Public schools officials in the region are keeping a close eye on state funding sources and proposed amendments to Virginia's biennial budget.

Warren County's state revenue for schools would increase in the next fiscal year by $211,946 over the current budget cycle, according to Director of Finance Rob Ballentine.

However state revenue to Warren County for the next fiscal year includes a one-time payment of $273,017 that represents the state's share of the cost of giving a 2-percent salary increase for state-funded instructional positions, Ballentine explained by email this week. Should the county accept the amount and implement the raise, the division would need at least $173,819 in local money to fully fund the increase, according to Ballentine.

"In either case we will have less net state revenue next year," Ballentine stated.

Gov. Bob McDonnell on Monday presented his proposed amendments to the state's biennial budget. The amendments would reduce general fund aid for K-12 education by $61.3 million in fiscal 2013 but would increase the amount by $64.4 million in fiscal 2014.

The state uses a composite index to calculate the amount in funding allocated to jurisdictions to meet Standards of Quality requirements. If a locality's index is 0.7, the state funds 30 percent of the education cost and the jurisdiction covers 70 percent, explained Mary Jo Fields, of the Virginia Municipal League. Fields referred to the formula to explain the potential situation for Warren County.

"But the problem is that localities hire more teachers than the state pays for and they can't look at their teachers and say well you're not an SOQ teacher so you're not getting a salary increase," Fields said Friday. "They would have to give a salary increase to all their teachers."

Localities also receive no money from the state for teachers not funded by Virginia to meet SOQ, Fields noted.

As Fields explained, the state uses salary figures usually outdated by two years to calculate funding while localities pay salaries "in real time" using current data.

"They're not paying on a fictional number that the state comes up with," Fields said.

The future could hold more funding cuts for Warren and Frederick counties.

A report released Dec. 10 by the Joint Legislative Review and Audit Commission recommends the state end the cost of competing adjustment for education to school divisions outside the greater Washington, D.C.-metro area. If the state followed the recommendation the action could affect Winchester and Fredericksburg, as well as the counties of Warren, Frederick, Clarke, Spotsylvania and King George.

For years, the state has allocated the COCA funding to school divisions that try to compete for teachers, but could not match the salaries and benefits offered in Northern Virginia.

But the JLARC report found not enough justification exists to apply COCA to the seven school divisions.

Warren County schools finance department does not list COCA funds as a single line in its budget. Ballentine calculated the effect losing COCA on the schools state funding. Warren County could lose approximately $332,000 for instructional and support staff should the state eliminate the jurisdiction from those that receive COCA funds, according to Ballentine. Under the governor's proposal to eliminate funding for support staff only Warren County could lose approximately $116,000, Ballentine stated.

The impact to Frederick County could be higher.

"At the present time, we estimate a potential loss of $350,000-$400,000 if our COCA funding were eliminated," Steve Edwards, spokesman for the county schools, stated in an email this week. "We are in the early stages of developing the budget for FY14 and have not identified possible cuts that may be necessary if our COCA funding were eliminated or reduced.

"The Board is aware of the report and recommendations, but there hasn't been any specific actions taken," Edwards added. "We are still very early in the budget process and continuing to monitor the COCA issue and others that may impact our fiscal 2014 budget."

The report concluded that the state could look at grouping Northern Virginia localities into two subgroups. The cities of Alexandria, Falls Church and Fairfax, and the counties of Arlington and Fairfax should receive a higher COCA rate than a second group consisting of the counties of Fauquier, Loudoun, Prince William and Stafford and the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park, according to the report.

The report also suggested different methods to calculate COCA at a cost to the state of $140 million to $340 million. The state currently funds COCA at $98 million.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com


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