Budgets, as a general rule, aren’t typically documents that inspire outpourings of emotion. During the most recent meeting of the Goochland County School Board, however, the newly amended FY21 budget appeared to do exactly that.
Explaining to school board members the ways in which the previously presented budget would need to be amended — including eliminating all new spending, halving money set aside for professional development, and shifting eligible expenses to be covered by federal funding — the school division’s Chief Finance Officer Debbie White found it difficult to hide her dismay at the havoc COVID-19 has wreaked on the entire process.
“This is a really hard budget season. We worked extremely hard on the budget that we presented to you in February, and it was a budget that had been well-vetted,” said White. “We were very excited about that.”
Now, she said, all of that has had to be redone. In light of that fact that so much remains unknown, White has been forced to create a new budget based on the best information available.
Not only does her office no know what the sales tax funding will look like, they are not sure what the division’s own transportation needs will look like. How many students, for example, will they will be able to transport on one bus?
Of course, this year’s budget process is far from the only thing that has changed for the school administration. School board members maintained plenty of distance between one another during the meeting, which was closed to the community but streamed live on the Internet.
Those changes are minor in comparison to the much larger questions school leaders are grappling with, including how to safely transition students back into the classroom and when that could process could possibly begin.
Fortunately, White said, the division has not had to furlough or terminate any employees, and will be able to continue meeting the needs of all students despite the loss in revenue. There is also some comfort, White said, to be found in knowing how many others are facing the same issues.
“We are not alone,” White acknowledged, pointing out that her fellow budget crafters in other districts have also been forced to present their own school boards with the sad facts about COVID-19’s impact on their divisions’ bottom lines. “This is just hard on all of us right now.”
In addition to offering the amended budget, White also presented board members with a few possibilities for further savings should schools not fully reopen in the fall.
The loss of traditional highlights like marching band, school sports and field trips, for example, would save hundreds of thousands of dollars.
But while the savings would help, White said, it would do little to ease the pain of losing so much.
Said White, “it’s just hard to think about school in that situation.”