The Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors has agreed to allow the school system to carry over more than $13 million from this year’s budget to cover costs for next fiscal year.

The money has been available since fiscal 2019 as health insurance reserve funds. The school system plans to use $10 million of the carryover funds to pay for health insurance. The other $3.4 million, school officials said, will cover a decrease in expected state funds.

While the county school system will get about $8 million more from the state in FY 2021 than FY 2020, that total falls short of expectations. Because of changes in the composite index, a formula the state uses to determine how much each locality can afford to spend on education, Spotsylvania must come up with an additional $3 million.

School Board Chairman Baron Braswell and Chancellor District member Dawn Shelley presented the budget to the supervisors at a work session Tuesday night. Schools Superintendent Scott Baker also took part in the session.

Several supervisors—the most vocal being new member and middle school principal Deborah Frazier—defended the School Board budget and decried the unfunded state and federal mandates. Other supervisors questioned aspects of the budget and the school system’s portrayal of per pupil spending, something raised by Supervisor David Ross.

Members of both boards said staff is doing top-notch work while running on a shoestring budget, and that localities’ hands are tied by unfunded federal and state mandates.

School officials, and Frazier, also went on the defensive regarding questions they deem confrontational that fail to highlight good things that result from investing in education. They pointed out such things as the county’s best ever on-time graduation numbers and lowest-ever dropout rate in 2019, the renovation of Courtland High School, better pay and the addition of more than 200 school employees.

The school board’s fiscal 2021 budget calls for spending a total of $343.275 million, with projected revenues falling $4.420 million short. The school board is asking the county to fill the gap.

Of the budget, a little more than $156 million would come from state coffers. A little more than $135 million would come from the county, $18.5 million from the federal government and the rest from various other sources.

The operating budget is just more than $525.4 million. More than $217 million will go toward instruction costs. School staff also would get an average 4 percent raise in the proposed budget.

Ross, who praised the school system attended by one of his children, joined Supervisors Tim McLaughlin and Barry Jett in voting against the $3.4 million carryover request. They voted in favor of the $10 million carryover request.

Among their criticisms was the timing, which they consider bad, since the county recently proposed a budget calling for a nearly 7-cent increase to the real estate tax rate, combined with what appears to be a spike in property assessments released this month.

But school officials pointed out the carryover funds already exist, and will have no impact to the budget or tax rate.

The school funding issue will be back on the supervisors’ agenda during a budget work session Feb. 25.

This article has been updated to show the correct proposed operating budget for the county.

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436

sshenk@freelancestar.com

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