A week after Newport News Mayor McKinley Price offered a pair of potential solutions to fill the funding gap between the school division’s budget request and the city’s proposal, Newport News Public Schools Superintendent George Parker offered ideas he said the School Board would support.
The City Council and School Board held a joint meeting Tuesday in City Center to discuss the ongoing budget season and City Manager Cindy Rohlf’s proposal. Along with the ideas to fill the funding gap, officials were clear that the two bodies needed to improve their relationship and the way they work together.
The school division’s request from the city for the upcoming year is $113.3 million, up from $110.9 million. Rohlf’s proposal keeps school operating funds at $110.9 million.
Parker’s suggestions were built off of an idea Price pitched publicly ahead of a budget hearing April 9. The idea is to take $2.4 million worth of capital projects the school division is planning to fund using money in its operating budget and add the them to the city’s capital improvement plan, paying for the projects up-front with operating dollars.
Rohlf discussed the idea with Parker the day before her initial budget presentation in March. She said that at the time, she did not get an agreeable response. Parker on Tuesday outlined concerns with the idea, saying it would increase the percentage of the school division budget dedicated to salaries, the amount of existing capital needs.
He went on to say the School Board would support that course of action with some conditions:
- Development of a long-range plan to fund capital improvement needs;
- A city commitment to fund 80 percent of school division compensation increases that are not state funded for the fiscal years 2021 and 2022;
- A revenue sharing agreement;
- A commitment to fund the school’s capital improvements plan and funding a new Huntington Middle School.
The school division’s most preferred scenario is full funding of the initial request, and Parker also pitched asking for a smaller increase in operating funds from the city and then have the city take on some school projects in cash capital. That route may come with cuts to the school budget.
Price had also suggested repurposing a current year-end surplus expected to be about $4 million and roll it into the upcoming fiscal year for a one-time project. Parker did not present this as an option he or the School Board would support.
The city’s budget proposal totals $497.6 million, up from the current budget of $486.9 million. The school division’s budget proposal totals $315.7 million, up from its current budget of about $305 million. The schools will get about $8.7 million more from the state.
Rohlf said that while the city revenue is expected to increase by $10.7 million, most of that money is tied to debt service or given to the city for a specific expense, such as roads or human services.
In reality, she said, the city has about $3.1 million in new revenue to work with, almost all of which is for employee raises.
“Public safety, that’s very important. We have human services, it’s very important. We have what we’re trying to do in the communities, redevelopment, that’s very important,” Rohlf said in an interview Thursday. “And it’s our job to balance that out and figure out where those priorities are and what’s more pressing, and which makes sense.”
The School Board discussed the joint meeting during a work session it held immediately after. Some members and Parker pointed out positives, that new ideas had been presented to the city for consideration. Others were not so optimistic.
“I think we’re at an impasse. … Schools are not a priority of the city, otherwise the money would follow,” said board member Marvin Harris. “I don’t think they believe on the return on investment.”
Rohlf said she would provide feedback on Parker’s ideas at the council’s work session April 23.