Henrico schools anticipate larger budget shortfall

By Laura Geller - bio | email

HENRICO, VA (WWBT) – Governor Bob McDonnell's announcement on the state budget has sent Henrico school leaders back to the drawing board. The superintendent now worries the responsibility of funding education is shifting away from the state and onto the counties.

Dr. Pat Russo already slashed $16.5 million from his budget.  Now, that number could double.  At this point, it's hard to tell what else will land on the chopping block.

Considering the news out of most counties and cities nowadays, a superintendent's budget without job and instructional program cuts is almost unheard of.  It was a mission for Russo.

"Tough times, but we also have a priority and the priority should be education in this state," Russo said.

He slashed $16.5 million with cost saving measures like eliminating 98 positions through attrition, increasing class size by less than one student, deferring the purchase of textbooks and school buses and reducing the amount of supplies used in each classroom.

These are minor cuts in comparison to many of the neighboring jurisdictions. That's one reason Chet Wade is thankful his two daughters attend Henrico schools.

"If you give me good teachers, good administrators, committed parents and a supportive community, I think you can learn in any environment, as long as it's safe," said Wade.

Now the county is dealing with more bad news.  The state budget shortfall could add almost $15 million to the deficit.

"When you have to look at those types of dollars to reduce it becomes a real serious concern to the level of service we can continue to offer to our residents," said Dr. Russo.

School leaders' one goal in drafting a budget has been to keep any cuts far from the classroom.  With no definitive state budget and a possible $30 million hole, parents are wondering if the system can keep up that trend.

"I don't know," responded School board Chair Lisa Marshall.  "It would be premature for me to say at this time, especially when we don't know what's going to be negotiated with the legislative package.  So, we're going to have to wait and see, but it's a game changer."

The superintendent and school board discussed some creative possibilities like a four day school week and increasing virtual classes.  With no exact figure to reach, these are just ideas and nothing is set in stone.

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