Fewer children are going to school in Waynesboro, and that is causing big money problems. Enrollment rates are down while costs are up, and that means the district will lose at least $365,000 in state funding.
Schools have been backed into a corner by the state and other factors. Now spending is frozen for all departments. These are the effects of rising healthcare and retirement system expenses. Tie all that in with high utility bills from the cold winter, and it's a perfect storm.
"I've tried to be very optimistic, but I'm particularly concerned if we continue to have an enrollment loss,” said Superintendent Jeffrey Cassell.
At Tuesday night's school board meeting, reality came to light.
"Public school systems are just having difficulty operating at this point,” Cassell said.
With 74 fewer students enrolled, on average, in Waynesboro Public Schools, the district will lose hundreds of thousands of dollars from the state. Effective immediately, drastic measures are being taken.
Accounts are frozen, overtime goes out the window, field trips are canceled and substitutes are limited.
"Operating costs, utility costs, salaries, wages, healthcare insurance, all of those expenses have increased significantly,” Cassell said.
Cassell points out a fundamental issue with the way schools are funded when they rely so heavily on the state: if costs escalate but Virginia doesn't pay, who will step in?
"That's the really challenging part of trying to save just a few dollars here and there,” he said.
20th District Delegate Dickie Bell (R) says schools have been put in an unfair situation.
"A lot of rural Virginia school districts are just suffering, and much of it is a result of this funding formula. The tax rates are relatively low, industries and manufacturing have left some of these areas. Populations have left, tax revenues are down,” he said.
For now, schools will try to remain afloat with cuts, but no answer has emerged as to how to deal with the massive shortfall. Next year, Waynesboro is estimating an enrollment of 3,010 students.
The superintendent says that when the governor gave his blessing to the caboose bill, which shores up state finances through the end of June, there was no additional funding for local schools.
Waynesboro Schools Face State Funding ShortfallMore>>