Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

June 9, 2012

Va. lawmakers respond to Tazewell School Board

TAZEWELL, Va. — Virginia lawmakers are responding to comments made by members of the Tazewell County School Board after several school board officials blamed state legislators for the a $1.55 million budget shortfall.

Even with state and federal moneys along with $13.5 million given to the board by the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors, the board said they still needed $1.55 million to continue funding salaries, programs and state and federal mandates. Several members of the Tazewell County School Board expressed displeasure with state lawmakers during a Monday, June 5 school boarding meeting after they approved the elimination of positions and programs for vocational, gifted and drivers’ education students in order to not go over the school’s 2013 fiscal budget.

Delegate James W. “Will” Morefield, R-Tazewell, said Tazewell schools received more funding for the upcoming fiscal year from the state than in the past year.

“Specifically for Tazewell, the state funding equals $36.2 million for the fiscal year 2013, or about $760,300 more than what is budgeted for fiscal year 2012,” Morefield said. “That equates to about $192 per student more in state funding. Tazewell’s state funding has increased even though their composite index has increased and their student membership has decreased. Regarding their student membership decrease - if the only thing that changed in the state’s funding model was their membership, then Tazewell’s state funding would decrease to reflect fewer students. However, for Tazewell, the additional funding adopted by the General Assembly offset what could have been net decreases in state funding because of increased composite index and fewer students.”

Morefield said there are a number of federal cutbacks impacting budgets nationwide.

In regard to federal funding, we are seeing tremendous cut backs,” he said. “During the stimulus period localities received stimulus funding during the stimulus period. Many legislators reminded localities this was one time funding and it shouldn’t be spent on recurring expenses. In light of an uncertain economic time we are faced with, it is easy for local and state officials to point fingers and blame others, but at the end of the day we have to be true leaders by not pointing fingers and providing folks with the exact facts and figures to show them it isn’t about partisan politics but doing the best with what you have. As a nation we are faced with a tremendous amount of debt and we are faced with a lot of thought decisions.”

Morefield said he feels funding education is important.

“I always considered education a priority,” he said. “Over the past few year we have faced a tremendous budgetary short fall at the state level. We balanced the budget how we are supposed to without raising taxes. Through that, we were able to provide more money for education than in previous in year. I think it says a lot that we were able to provide more money to education this year than in previous year. I think its important people see lawmakers value education and have shown we do so by providing additional education.”

Sen. Phillip Puckett, D-Russell, said he can understand the strain the Tazewell County School Board and others across the state are feeling due to unfunded mandates.

“I would tend to agree with the school board members,” he said. “We did put some unfunded mandates for localities. The biggest funding out there is the Virginia Retirement System. I spoke and voted against a law I felt was very unfair to localities. Any entity with employees in the VRS has to comply with this mandate whether its school, state or localities. It requires an entity, in this case the school board, to give a 5 percent raise. The employees are getting hurt by this to. The employee may get a 5 percent raise, but they have to turn around and put it in the VRS system, which puts them in the whole after taxes. No one had this mandate in their budget.”

Puckett said the state may have given more money to school boards for the upcoming fiscal year, but the money does not outweigh cuts made to education.

“The big thing you hear from Richmond is that we put more money in education, but the truth is there was money put in certain places, but a lot was cut,” Puckett said. “The last two years we have had a large amount of stimulus money come into the state. The state sent that to localities and school systems to use so they wouldn’t have to raise taxes. That money is gone now, so if you supplemented money with stimulus money, that money is no longer around. Some people may call that a cut, but it was really one time money. I sympathize with the school boards across the Commonwealth, not just here in this district. I know every school board in my district is cutting things because of the VRS mandate and due to the loss of the federal stimulus.”

— Contact Kate Coil at kcoil@bdtonline.com

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