Home Waynesboro Schools ‘getting significantly more city funds’ but budget is currently unbalanced

Waynesboro Schools ‘getting significantly more city funds’ but budget is currently unbalanced

Rebecca Barnabi

Waynesboro Schools is expecting a revenue of $48,652,994 for budget year 2023-2024.

But expenditures right now are expected to be $50,646,812.

“The budget is not balanced,” said Waynesboro Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff Cassell at Tuesday night’s regular meeting of the Waynesboro School Board.

Somehow, the school system will have to find a way to cut nearly $2 million from its budget.

Cassell reminded the school board and audience that “schools are very people-intensive organizations.” Keeping a budget goal of providing another salary increase in 2024 is important for a school system which 82 percent of its budget goes toward salaries and benefits.

“There’s a lot of disappointments, there’s a lot of unknowns between these budgets,” Cassell said.

On February 25, the Virginia General Assembly will hopefully adopt a state budget.

“I’ve never quite encountered a budget year like this one,” Cassell said. “I don’t know that it’s good news or bad news, but I think it’s mostly good news. It’s very confusing.”

According to Cassell, his staff usually compares the next budget year to the current budget year, but 2022-2023’s budget was skewed with the inclusion of pandemic funds which will not be available for 2024.

“It’s skewed the other way this year,” Cassell said.

Comparing the current year’s budget to next year is not comparing apples to apples, although staff must still compare the two budgets.

In addition, the U.S. House’s, the U.S. Senate’s and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s proposed budgets are completely different this year.

“There’s nothing aligned about anything in Richmond this year,” Cassell said.

The school board’s budget priorities for 2024 are to continue increasing employee compensation, provide students with access to social, emotional, and behavioral assistance, as well as accelerated learning and learning recovery, and complete renovations at Berkeley Glenn and Wenonah elementary schools and Wayne Hills Center.

Last year, the school board provided a 7.2 percent employee raise. Cassell said another increase is necessary “in order to continue to recruit and retain the best employees that we can.”

Significant state budget changes may impact the school system’s budget for 2023-2024, including the governor’s proposal of a 5 percent raise for employees, while the Senate and House propose a 7 percent increase. A local match is necessary with whatever increase the state provides. Less than 50 percent of raises is funded by the state. For Waynesboro Schools, this comes to approximately $323,000 per percent increase from the school system for employee compensation.

Another impact from the state’s budget will be the elimination next year of school construction funds in the amount of $1.7 million.

“That’s extremely helpful. That’s enough to [replace] a roof or a couple of boilers or things that you’re not planning for. It enables a locality to maintain our facilities at a much more appropriate, preventative way,” Cassell said.

Grant funding from the state will also be eliminated for the acquisition of six electric school buses in the amount of $1.4 million.

What will also harm Virginia school systems is an error on the Commonwealth’s part in funding the grocery tax. During the pandemic, the state picked up the slack so that local schools did not feel an impact, however, the state miscalculated, and now Waynesboro Schools will receive nearly $678,000 less in 2024.

Cassell said that student enrollment is increasing because of residential growth in the River City.

At this time, Waynesboro Schools expects $25,282,269 from the state, a decrease of $339,753, but when adjusted because the school bus grant will not be available in 2024, the state funding is actually increases by $1.1 million.

Including CARES Act funding, the school system expects $3,891,976 from the federal government for 2024, a decrease of nearly $1.3 million

Local funding is the most surprising for the school system in 2024, when the city of Waynesboro is expected to provide $18,820,094, an increase of almost $1.4 million from the current year.

“We are getting significantly more city funds,” Cassell said.

Waynesboro School Board will meet February 28 at 6:30 p.m. in a budget work session to discuss the 2023-2024 budget.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.