Feel overwhelmed by the school board budget? You’re not alone

The 2010 census shows that public schools in Virginia received an average of 37 percent of their funding from the state and 10 percent of their funding from federal sources. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the State of Virginia has reduced their per pupil expenditure by ten percent over the last five years. In addition, the House of Representatives slashed Title I funds – federal monies that help low-income schools – by $694 million, or five percent last year.

While the school board has little control over what happens at higher jurisdictions, they have tried to respond directly to the claims of a local lack of transparency.

“This whole year has been nothing but a budget process. I feel we have been accountable, transparent, as any top organization can be,” said School Board Member Bill Hughes.

At Wednesday’s school board meeting they published the job descriptions of all administrators, as well as a long list of every governmental and private grant they have applied for. Beginning in July, finance director Ed Breslauer met, and will continue to meet, monthly with citizens to answer questions about the thorny school budget. He calls his gatherings, School Budget 101.

“I myself am not mathematically inclined and it has taken me several months to fully understand the existing budget,” said Kerry Murphy-Hammond, parent of a fourth grader at Carysbrook Elementary and a leader of Focus on Fluvanna’s Future. “Some of us have put in more hours learning about the budget than those who claim that the budget lacks transparency.”

But attendance at such gatherings has been low. Breslauer reported that the citizens are mostly representatives of Focus on Fluvanna’s Future, Parent Teacher Organizations, Fluvanna Taxpayers Association, and the Fluvanna Education Association. County Administrator Steve Nichols and Supervisor Mozell Booker have also attended, but no other county officials.

“There’s a lot of education that needs to be done not just for our kids, but for our leadership in our community,” said Hughes. “I would like to hear our board of supervisors say to us we’re going to work closely with you to resolve these problems, and not say certain things about gloom and doom. It’s unacceptable.”

The next School Budget 101 is Tuesday, Oct. 23 at 6 p.m. in the school board meeting room. Breslauer will discuss Standards Of Quality (SOQs) as well as expenditures. Materials posted at http://www.fluco.org/finance/SitePages/fin_schoolbudget101.aspx.

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