With the new Clarke County High School both under budget and on schedule for completion in January 2012, predictions of another difficult financial year for students appears destined to come true. But as the school division’s operating budget continues to feel pressure, there is some sunshine in the otherwise stormy fiscal horizon. At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting Joint Administrative Services director Tom Judge briefed the Supervisors on his latest budgetary analysis of information released earlier this week by Virginia Governor Rob McDonnell while School Board member Robina Bouffault tied the final ribbon on a major construction project that appears headed for both on-time delivery and under-budget completion.
While cautioning that budgetary details were continuing to unfold, Judge said that it appears that Clarke County Public Schools may see a drop in overall education funding support from government sources.
Judge told the Supervisors that even though an adjustment in the County’s composite index – the individually adjusted numeric factor used to calculate a school division’s ability to pay education costs based on the true value of real property (weighted 50 percent), the adjusted gross income (weighted 40 percent) and taxable retail sales (weighted 10 percent) – will provide County schools with a $400K school funding increase, other fiscal changes are likely to more than offset the increase.
Judge said that local funding expense for the troubled Virginia Retirement System will increase by $550K while last year’s one-time $360K in Federal “jobs” funds will no longer be available. Additionally, life insurance premium costs will quadruple along with an approximately 10% health care cost increase.
But despite the gloomy operating budget outlook, the Supervisors also received some good news about school funding on Tuesday.
Outgoing School Board member Robina Bouffault (White Post), who has managed the school construction budget throughout the building process, said that she recently allocated $61K of the $1.02M construction contingency originally budgeted for unexpected expenses, to cover problems related to placing utility lines under Main Street near Jackson Avenue.
But with the new school on track for substantial completion by January 23 and final completion March 23, Bouffault said that the threat of additional contingency expenses is very low.
“$629K is still available in the contingency fund and there is nothing major left to complete at this point” Bouffault said. “It’s a very good looking building and I think that everyone will be very pleased with it.”
Supervisor Chairman Michael Hobert (Berryville) acknowledged Boffault for her extraordinary leadership on the school project and thanked her for her service.
While there was no formal discussion by the Supervisors on Tuesday about how the unspent school construction funds might be used in the future, one Supervisor said after the meeting adjourned that the funds will remain available in the school division’s capital budget for other school projects.