Henrico Reveals Proposed School Cuts

By Andy Jenks - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

HENRICO, VA (WWBT) - Facing a multi-million dollar budget gap, today Henrico school leaders revealed new details on how they plan to fill it.

The district promised to keep all teachers and programs. But there was no hiding the board's frustration that the situation will likely get worse before it gets better.

If you want to break down a complicated budget into a few one-liners, look no further than board member Linda McBride.

"What they're doing is making us feel good about getting kicked in the rear end," McBride said, later adding, "They're having a barn dance but in the meantime they're burning the barn."

In this case, "they" is the state. And the "barn dance" is a decision related to the Virginia Retirement System.

In the latest proposal, dictated in part by state leaders, Henrico won't have to pay as much into the VRS next year, which amounts to a savings of roughly $14 million. So, the district only has to cut about $2.8 million more. That includes things like gasoline purchases, new buses, central office staff (through attrition and retirements), and tuition reimbursement for employees.

Unlike other districts, all teachers and programs in Henrico get to stay. But the board believes the problems are only just beginning.

"This is a situation where we [Virginia] had an opportunity to pay now or pay later, and we decided we wanted to pay later," said board member Lamont Bagby.

Payments to the retirement system would resume next year. Barring a budgetary miracle, that means more cutting, or, more fees: like the idea, currently being discussed, of raising the cost of student parking from $10 to $50. Or, maybe, charging students for the cost of playing sports.

"The 2011-12 year will be a much, much more difficult and much more gut-wrenching process than we are experiencing right now," said Dr. Pat Russo, Superintendent of Schools.

So the work must go on. And no one phrased it, quite like Linda McBride.

"The light at the end of the tunnel has been turned off," she said.

The public has one last chance to weigh-in on the budget this week. The final board meeting before a vote begins this Thursday, March 11, at 5:30 p.m., at school board headquarters located on Nine Mile Road.

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