The School Board held a brief budget work session Thursday night that, despite getting less local tax funding than they requested from the Board of Supervisors, focused on what elements to add to their Fiscal Year 2022 spending plan.
Although supervisors cut the School Board’s local funding request by $28.6 million, the funding gap was largely erased by an $8.7 million increase in state funding and a determination by the state Department of Education that cleared the way for $7.7 million in federal emergency aid to pay for expanded summer school offerings, and a staff proposal to use $4.5 million in planned one-time purchases using the year-end surplus. The staff has proposed dropping the $1.9 million earmark to begin a collective bargaining program and to not hire six non-mandated health clinic specialists to bring the budget back into balance.
The School Board work session mainly focused on two new proposals floated by members.
Denise Corbo (At Large) has suggested hiring teacher assistants to help in first-grade classes, which are expected to face extra challenges with “redshirted” kindergarteners, many of whom will enter the year without classroom experience because of the pivot to virtual learning last year.
Some members raised concerns over whether that $3 million initiative would be the best use of the division’s COVID response contingence funds and whether it would be feasible to hire 150 to 175 qualified assistants for temporary, one-year positions.
Corbo said the suggestion had been made by front-line teachers.
The board also discussed where best to invest in fee reductions for students.
The Board of Supervisors voted to allocate money needed to eliminate athletic fees, but lack line-item control over school division spending.
School Board members instead focused on the possibility of making AP tests more affordable, either by eliminating the fees or offered some number of tests at no charge.
Advocates of that option said it could have the most educational impact, potentially saving families tens of thousands of dollars in tuition fees if the students qualify for college credits.
Members also showed interest in exploring the options of cutting athletic fees or on-campus parking fees.
The School Board plans to adopt it budget reconciliation measures at its April 27 meeting, what an April 23 deadline set for members to propose their changes.