CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WRIC) — As the Chesterfield County School Board prepares to approve the budget it will present to the Board of Supervisors, an advisory committee made up of local citizens had some harsh words for the county’s leaders.
They came in the form of a report from the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee (CBAC), which gave its recommendations on the budget recently introduced by Superintendent Dr. Merv Daugherty.
“It is of this committee’s opinion that this board did not do enough to support the students of Chesterfield County,” they wrote. “Regardless of the reason, Chesterfield County children will be the ones that continue to suffer this decades old trend of the county ‘doing more with less.’”
More is Less?
Their claim is backed up by data: a report from Wallethub found that Chesterfield County was characterized by “High income & Low expenditure,” with an average household income well above the state average and expenditures well below it.
While Dr. Daugherty touted a $61 million boost to education funding, most of that came from the state, which provides funding according to the Composite Index of Local Ability to Pay. Chesterfield has a lower ability to pay than neighboring Henrico and Richmond, according to the state, so it receives more state funding.
The county did increase its funding commitment by $16 million, bringing its total from $329.7 million to $345.4 million. There’s just one problem: with inflation last year at 7.7%, that means Chesterfield County has cut its effective share of funding to education by about $10 million.
“In essence, the County is providing less real dollars for our schools this year,” the CBAC wrote.
At the same time, the county is touting a decrease in the property tax rate, one that would bring it to the “lowest it has been since at least the 1970s.”
The new budget comes as the county struggles to retain teachers and other staff. Teacher pay has been a priority in this year’s budget and a frequent topic of comment at school board meetings.
“If we don’t support them with pay, Chesterfield will not be able to get the teachers it needs,” said resident Diane Brown.
That’s backed up by data from a recent study with an unusual source. The survey was conducted by the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Group on Education (SSAGE), a group of student representatives from schools across Chesterfield.
They surveyed students and staff across the county to find out what they wanted to see in this year’s budget.
Over 50% of respondents at Midlothian High School said they wanted to see more funding put towards teacher salaries. Other popular choices included improved transportation and better food in cafeterias.
Superintendent Daugherty’s budget does include some extra money for staff salaries – most notably to address what’s known as “payscale compression” that hits experienced teachers hardest.
While Daugherty committed to keeping those pay increases in the budget, other cuts may have to be made as his proposed budget originally came in with a $23 million shortfall.
Who Gets to Decide?
While Superintendent Daugherty gets to take the first stab at making a budget, the process doesn’t end there.
The school board is currently in the process of formulating their own version of the budget, based on Daugherty’s proposal and input from a series of town hall meetings held earlier this month.
But ultimately the decision will be made by the Board of Supervisors, who can take the recommendations of Dr. Daugherty and the school board into account – or ignore them entirely.
That outcome may be what the CBAC fears.
“This committee believes this budget is already below what it should be,” they wrote. “Cutting anymore would be detrimental to our children, and another shameful mark on this board.”
The school board still has to approve its version of the budget, which will then be presented to the Board of Supervisors.