The School Board reconciled the $1.456 billion fiscal year 2023 budget on Tuesday, closing a $21 million funding gap while facing uncertainty about the state’s budget with a unanimous vote.
The final budget includes $2.4 million for fine arts stipends, cause for celebration for the two dozen supporters of the performing arts who waited in the boardroom for the budget to be adopted.
The budget also allows for a continency plan with considerations for possible outcomes from the state’s yet-to-be completed budget process.
The biggest question remains teacher raises, which were slated to be an average of 5% through cost-of-living adjustments and step increases. The staff recommended the elimination of a 2.5% cost of living adjustment, leaving teachers with only a step increase. Step increases would be an average of 2.5%, and teachers at the top of their scales would receive a one-time 1% bonus.
Superintendent Scott Ziegler said during the board’s May 19 work session that it is likely that once the state finalizes its budget, the COLA will be added back into the budget.
“Most scenarios are the state would provide enough,” he said, “we’re just waiting for the final numbers there.”
Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles) interpreted the recommendation as an effort to achieve funding equality among activities.
“We’re trying to fix the tides for all boats. We can’t fix the tide for some boats and not the others. They’re both going to change, so it’s a dynamic situation where you can’t solve half of the equation,” he said.
Harris Mahedavi (Ashburn) expressed his frustration with the gap between the school district’s request and funding from the county government. The school division had requested $1.08 billion in local tax funding, a $75 million increase over the current fiscal year. The Board of Supervisors funded a $53.7 million increase.
“We could have done the 5% if we were funded properly from the Board of Supervisors, and here we are in this challenging situation here,” he said.
The staff also recommended the elimination of 25 new elementary teacher positions, which Chief Financial Officer Sharon Willoughby reported would not significantly impact student to teacher ratios, and would slash $2,378,263 from the budget. Part-time first grade teacher assistant positions are also recommended to be removed, saving $1.5 million.
The presentation identified the removal of $1,000 stipends for special education teachers and assistants as potential savings, totaling $707,261.
A number of cuts to the English Learner department saved over $2 million, including 16 EL teachers.
Although the possibility of the funding shortfall was identified in February, board members and Ziegler pointed to the state holding up the process.
“The commonwealth has put us and every school division in a very difficult place as far as adopting budgets. I appreciate all of their work and all of the work they’ve done projecting,” Ziegler said.