VASS Remarks at the 2017 Budget Hearings

David Sovine

Good morning. I’m Frederick County Public Schools Superintendent David Sovine.

I want to thank the Governor and General Assembly for approving a two-year budget that brought significant increases to K-12 education. However, I want to share a number of concerns.

First, I would ask that the state fully fund all mandates. The partial funding or absence of funding state mandates places a burden on local school divisions. Here’s a quick example. A few years ago, the state mandated that schools stock epipens for use in the event of an emergency. While I certainly support protecting our students and staff through this initiative, one must recognize the cost to comply with the mandate has skyrocketed. In 2014, the total cost to place epipens in our schools was just under $3,500. Due to the increased cost of epipens, our cost to comply with the mandate is now more than $15,500. We receive no state funding to offset the cost of the mandate. There are numerous other examples, but I would ask that you fully fund state mandates.

Secondly, I want to voice support for the SOQ staffing changes recommended by the State Board. While the changes are needed, they must be accompanied by appropriate state funding as well as some flexibility should qualified applicants not be available. In addition, the support position cap needs to be removed in order to more accurately reflect the current practices of local school divisions.

Finally, I would like to address VRS rate increases and state-supported salary initiatives. While I support fully funding VRS at the rate recommended by the Board of Trustees in the 2019-2020 biennium, accelerating rate changes places a significant burden on localities. In FY18, the VRS rate increase will cost my division an additional $1.5 million. The burden is even greater when one considers the lack of state support for the planned 2 percent salary increase our School Board awarded employees as part of the FY17 budget process. I support keeping the planned 2 percent salary increase in the state budget rather than the Governor’s proposed 1.5 percent bonus or the proposed acceleration of VRS funding.

While the 2 percent raise is appreciated, it’s not enough as we try to address a growing national teacher shortage and help staff deal with the increased cost of living. In Frederick County, all staff received a 2 percent salary increase in July. However, much of that raise went toward covering higher insurance cost. Unfortunately, about one-third of our more than 1,100 teachers received the pay raise but saw their take home pay decrease. This occurred even after our insurance offerings were adjusted to help control cost. Salaries need to remain a focus as Virginia’s average teacher salary remains well below the national average despite our excellent student achievement.

Virginia can, and should, do better for our teachers and, more importantly, for our students.

Jeff Perry

Good Morning. My name is Jeff Perry. I currently serve as Division Superintendent for the Wythe County Public Schools and as chair of the Region VII Superintendent’s Study Group. We sincerely appreciate the opportunity to provide feedback on the proposed budget. It is our hope this group will carefully consider our comments and incorporate our recommendations into the budget. We clearly understand there are a number of stakeholders impacted by the state budget. We also understand public schools are not the only entity requesting additional funding and consideration. However, we hold the firm belief that many of the challenges that will be faced by our Commonwealth in the near future can be more directly impacted by a successful and positive PK-12 experience in our public schools than any other state agency. Public schools provide a wide range of services to our children and communities which will impact the intellectual, social, political, and physical well-being of our Commonwealth.

Research has clearly demonstrated that states which do not fully support and value public education do not prosper. Children enrolled in public schools which are not adequately funded will suffer from poor literacy rates, are more likely to become involved in the criminal justice system, are more likely to become dependent on governmental assistance, are more likely to become addicted to drugs and alcohol, and are less likely to be viable candidates for employment. Businesses and individuals with highly needed skills and income will not see Virginia as a desirable place to locate if we don’t value education.

We are supportive of the statements advocated by VASS and the comments made by Dr. Perrigan on behalf of the Coalfield School Divisions. In addition, the Superintendents in Region VII support the following recommendations to the budget.

  1. Fully fund all mandates passed by the General Assembly. We are consistently inundated with legislation which requires additional programming and staff but often this legislation is not accompanied by the necessary funding. Either provide us funding or provide us liberty.
  2. Revise the accelerated VRS increase and return to the established 2019/20 fully-funded target which was initially recommended. This increase in VRS rates, in conjunction with reduced local and state revenues, will cripple many school divisions who are already struggling financially.
  3. Provide necessary funding to fully support the recommended SOQ revisions if approved and allow significant flexibility for school divisions to staff their schools as needed. The Profile of a Graduate, the proposed Accreditation Matrix, and the availability of certified personnel will require different programs and staffing in various school divisions. We desperately need flexibility with staffing and funding options.
  4. Eliminate the SOQ Support Position Cap.
  5. Continue support of the Class Size and Staffing Waivers.
  6. Reinstate some type of school construction and renovation revenue source. Many of our schools were built in the 1950’s. These buildings pose a number of health and safety issues, are not environments conducive to the learning process, will not attract new businesses, and place our staff/students in a highly non-competitive position with other states and nations.
  7. Provide a Cost of Competing Adjustment for school divisions in the Southwest part of the Commonwealth which are experiencing extreme difficulties in recruiting and retaining quality staff.
  8. Reissue the Enrollment Loss Budget provision which will allow school divisions time to adjust and plan for sudden and unanticipated declines in student enrollment.

In closing, we do appreciate the opportunity to speak and we can appreciate the difficult job you have in developing a state-wide budget which requires limited revenue be dispersed to unlimited needs. However, please understand public education has been the foundation of this nation’s success and it is the fundamental thing which separates us from all other nations. Public education is an investment and not an obligation. We are often the largest employers in our counties and any impact to our funding will result in a financial disaster for our communities and state. Public schools have consistently made the difference in the lives of many young people and in the economic viability of this Commonwealth. In difficult economic times, it is easy to lose focus of this fact and make short-term decisions which will have a devastating impact on our future. Provide us with the necessary funding and we will continue to produce young men and women who will lead our communities, this state, and this nation. It is an investment and the best way to prevent future economic, physical, societal, and intellectual problems is to provide the necessary vision and support of public education today.

Jim Roberts

Good afternoon, I am Jim Roberts, Superintendent of Chesapeake Public Schools. Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to provide comments on the Governor’s Proposed 2017-2018 state budget.

I have been the Superintendent in Chesapeake for almost seven years, and I have spoken to you every year. I want to first thank you for the increased funding for public education in the 2016-18 biennial budget approved by the General Assembly last March. It was a step in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go. By reinstating 40% of the Lottery Proceeds directly to school divisions, the General Assembly moved closer to adhering to the will of the citizens of Virginia who voted to implement the controversial Lottery program in the late 1980’s. The 2 remaining 60%, though, is used to offset Basic Aid monies that are provided to public education.

School divisions, VASS, VSBA and other educational support organizations have consistently asked the Governor and the General Assembly to restore the funding that was cut when the recession hit. I could provide you with a lot of statistics and dollar figures, but 3 minutes does not permit me to do so. I am challenging the members here and every member of the General Assembly to take advantage of an opportunity. Public school systems across the nation are struggling due to budget cuts. The pool of good teachers has been reduced significantly due to a growing lack of interest on the part of students entering college choosing to enroll in programs leading to a teaching certificate. Why don’t we take advantage of this situation and promote the profession by providing school divisions significant sustainable funding that will allow Virginia school systems to attract the best of that shrinking pool? There is no greater need in my system than ensuring all students have the strongest teacher in front of that classroom. Provide state funding that will allow 3 localities to increase salaries and reduce the pressure and we will bring those strong candidates to our state.

In addition, the primary legislative priority adopted by our school board in Chesapeake is the restoration of the funding for support positions using the prevailing cost methodology. Actions of the General Assembly in this area cut three quarters of a BILLION dollars from public education. It was done in a time when state revenue fell, and, while I certainly did not agree with the move, it was used to help balance the state budget. Adding that much funding back to state support for education and increasing teacher salaries will be expensive. Perhaps it is time to look at ways to make that happen. Examine the state income tax system to see if it is really designed to meet the needs of our citizens. Are we meeting their needs with this level of taxation? Do we really need to accelerate the plan to phase in the scheduled VRS rate increase? In our schools, in addition to the need for quality teachers and support personnel, we have been under tremendous pressure to add funding for meeting the instructional needs of struggling learners, safety issues, transportation issues, facility needs, and to meet 4 the ever-increasing technology requirements our students will have to have in the future. All of these increased costs have been added to our budgets, but we are operating now (not even counting inflation) at a lower level of state funding than we were almost 10 years ago.

Thank you again for the work you have done, and I thank you in advance for your consideration of an increase in sustainable funding for what should be one of your highest priorities…public education.

Virginia Association of School Superintendents
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