ASHLAND— In January, Hanover County Public Schools Superintendent Michael Gill presented an ambitious 2020-2021 budget for Hanover County School Board consideration.
Despite some challenging financial considerations, the budget provided salary increases and addressed an increasing number of behavioral issues occurring in classrooms across the Commonwealth.
At that time, Gill said this budget was his most difficult since his arrival in Hanover, but was proud of its ability to maintain a clear focus on instructional priorities.
The board approved Gill’s $199,377 million proposal in February.
“At the end of the day, I was quite proud of the work our team had done to reflect the priorities in the budget that was presented,” Gill said. “Among those was a compensation increase of 2 percent for everybody, taking some additional steps to reduce compression …. highlighting our bus drivers with additional compensation, reflecting positions in the area of social emotional learning and mental health, counseling and behavior.”
“We were proud to have you approve that budget and take it to the [Hanover County] Board of Supervisors. Quite a bit has happened since then, and the world has changed as we know it; so has the fiscal impact for all of us,” Gill told board members in a remotely accessed meeting last week.
The superintendent told school board members that cuts in revenues due to the coronavirus had resulted in a $5.5 million shortfall in this year’s proposed budget.
“As we bring you this budget for final adoption, it does look quite different,” Gill said.
Navigating a $5.5 million shortfall won’t be easy, but Gill said the priorities that included more behavioral counselors listed in January are still system goals.
“Those priorities we presented back in January are still very much priorities. In no way shape or form should it represent the deletion of any of those priorities. Rather, it is simply pushing the pause button until the economy rebounds and we can restore each and every item that was presented to you,” Gill said via Zoom.
There are three focus areas of the revised budget, including protecting existing jobs, maintaining current salaries and continuing the five-year technology plan.
“Those were the three focus areas, the lens that framed our thinking as we looked at how to enclose that $5.5 million gap,” Gill said.
Assistant superintendent Terry Stone, in charge of finance, said a revised county budget passed on May 6 forced school officials to scramble and begin an almost start from scratch revision.
School board members approved Gill’s original $199.4 million budget in February. The revised school operating budget totals $193.9 million.
Local funding was adjusted downward by about $3 million due to revenue shortfalls on the county side of the equation.
In addition, state cuts in revenue reduced their contribution by $3.3 million.
Stimulus funds provided about $927,000 of additional revenues for the schools, a one time funding due to the coronavirus.
“We cannot rely on that for the subsequent fiscal year,” Stone told board members.
The adjusted numbers forced cuts in expenditures that started by removing all proposed salary increases. In addition, 13 unfilled positions will remain vacant, eliminating new counselor and behavioral positions. Post-retirement employment program hours and compensation also will be reduced.
Stone said eliminating the salary increases saved about $3 million. Eight bus driver positions also will be eliminated. The board is considering a plan that would unify start times at all elementary schools. Currently, Beaverdam and South Anna Elementary Schools have later start times.
Establishing the same start time for all elementary schools would facilitate a reduction of eight drivers, representing a savings of $112,000 and increase system-wide efficiency by freeing up drivers.
“We are also proposing a cut in operating costs across the board,” Stone said. “We had to shave a little bit out of everyone’s budget.”
There also will be a delay in filling support positions and some vehicle replacement plans will be extended.
The proposed Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) is unaffected by the budget revisions.
The school nutrition budget increased by $115,000, bringing the revised and unanimously approved school all funds budget to $214.4 million.
“It is unfortunately an impossibility to cut $5 million from a budget already under $2 million without there being pain associated with it,” Gill said. “Because of the efforts of so many, we feel this budget presented here represents the least painful way to make very painful decisions,” he added.
He also addressed concerns regarding items removed from this year’s budget.
“Again, anything that was taken out of the budget, most specifically the salary increases, the positions we were looking so forward to adding back in January — this does not represent a delete from the record, rather a pause until the economy rebounds and I truly look forward to the day when I’m able to bring back a recommendation to you to restore those positions,” Gill said.
The superintendent said all plans being made or altered during the crisis have a certain amount of uncertainty attached.
“There are a lot of ifs, but that’s the situation we are in which is number one unprecedented and number two very fluid.”