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Middlesex schools await decision on state funding

by Larry S. Chowning

School superintendent Rusty Fairheart has recommended the Middlesex County School Board take a wait-and-see position on probable significant cuts in state school funds in the upcoming 2010-11 (FY11) school budget.

The State of Virginia is facing an estimated $4.2 billion shortfall in the state’s two-year budget, which begins July 1, 2010.

Outgoing Democratic Governor Tim Kaine has recommended that the current Composite Index be frozen for the upcoming year. If Kaine’s recommendation is approved, Middlesex County would not lose nearly $300,000 in state funds as previously thought.

Middlesex’s composite index went up from .6786 to .7431 this year. The composite index determines a county’s ability to fund its own school expenses and other aspects of local government. Middlesex’s composite index is high because of its high real estate values. The higher the composite index, the less state funds a county receives for its school expenses.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that Kaine also is proposing cutting $10.35 billion in funds from K-12 education throughout the state.

If Kaine’s plan of solving the state budget shortfall is approved by the House and Senate and the composite index is unchanged, Middlesex County will still lose between $550,000 and $1.1 million in state school funds compared to current figures.

Kaine has proposed $2.3 billion in state cuts to help offset the $4.2 billion deficit to the state’s general fund. To make up the rest of the shortfall, he has recommended a one percent income-tax surcharge.

Incoming Governor Bob McDonnell and other Republican legislators have stated they will not support the surcharge. If that’s the case, there still will be a $950 million state shortfall each year over the next two years. 

“We don’t know what to think about the new administration,” said Fairheart. “We need to take our time and make sure we are working off the same page as the state.”

Usually, the school board presents its fiscal budget to the county board of supervisors by the end of February. “I’m just not certain we will have all the state figures we will need by then,” said Fairheart.

Supervisors need budget information early enough to set a tax rate so real estate tax bills can be mailed and paid by June 5, 2010.

The first school budget work session will be on Tuesday, January 19, at 4 p.m. at the Cooks Corner Office Complex. A second work session is scheduled for Tuesday, January 26, at 4 p.m. at the same location.

posted 01.13.2010

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