School funding request may be cut

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By Tom Wilmoth

    Monday’s discussion by the County Board of Supervisors about cutting the new funds requested by Bedford County Public Schools for the 2012-2013 budget came as a surprise to the Bedford County School Board this week.
    “I am surprised and saddened to hear about the potential decrease in county support for our schools,” stated School Board Vice Chairman Julie Bennington Tuesday.
    At a work session Monday, the supervisors indicated they might cut the school board’s request for a $4.2 million increase to the county’s local funding contribution to just $2 million. The overall proposed school budget is $100.2 million.
    Bennington stated the supervisors didn’t state any intention to make that change during a worksession with the school board on May 7. “The board of supervisors did not indicate that they were considering decreasing support for our schools and our students, nor did they express concerns about any of the items in our proposed 2012-13 school division budget,” she said.  “Therefore, it is difficult for me to understand why the board of supervisors would choose to discuss this matter last night in our absence.”
    Bennington said the county has been fortunate to have surpluses the past few years. “Most jurisdictions in the region have not been so fortunate and, as a result, have been raising taxes to adjust to higher state-mandated Virginia Retirement System contribution rates for their teachers and other staff,” she said. “Bedford County can easily support our budget without raising taxes. The funds are available, and our staff and students will be the ones to suffer should a decision be made not to use them.”
    In the statement released Tuesday, Bennington noted that the pending reversion of Bedford to town status could amount to $6 million annualy in additional revenue to the school system in state education funds beginning with the 2013-14 budget. “With that being said, it makes no sense for the county to underfund education this year, especially when the current Bedford County fund balance is near $20 million,” stated Bennington.
    “Given the funding challenges of the past several years, I wonder what the projected end-of-year balance for Bedford County will be for the current fiscal year (2011-12)? If it will be close to $3 million like it was last year, those surplus funds alone would nearly be enough to meet our current request,” she stated.
    Bennington noted that the school community has been relatively quiet during this year’s budget process “because we have adopted a budget that maintains all of the programs and services that we currently provide.”
     “To reduce funding this late in the process will undermine our ability to produce a responsible budget,” Bennington said. “Furthermore, additional cuts to the school division budget will be detrimental to our programs and services and, ultimately, will have an adverse effect on the education our students receive.”
    The board of supervisors is slated to adopt its budget this Monday, May 21. “We need our county to support our schools,” Bennington said.
    The school board adopted its budget earlier this month and then presented the details to the supervisors at the work session last week.