School superintendents fear big budget cuts

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – Facing another year of budget gaps ranging from $1.5 million to $20 million, Virginia's school leaders are calling on Gov. Bob McDonnell and state leaders to re-think the latest state spending proposal.

It's becoming tradition: Another year...more school budget gaps. Members of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents say the governor's latest proposal doesn't do enough to fix the gaps. Instead, they say, it might actually make the problems worse.

"We're disappointed in some of our policy makers," said VASS President Pam Moran, adding that districts are facing difficult choices.

"Some areas will be more severe than others, and in Richmond we will have some severe budget cuts. We have a huge gap right now that's $20 million-plus," said Dr. Yvonne Brandon of Richmond Public Schools, who declined to specify how the district will close the gap.

VASS is calling on state lawmakers to repeal unfunded mandates, including what the governor proposed last week: the idea of annual -instead of continuing- teacher contracts, which school leaders say would be expensive to evaluate.

"Virginia doesn't need superficial changes or politicized educational strategies already proven to not work," Moran said.

The superintendents were especially critical of the governor's proposal to invest in education in the form of retirement system contributions.

"The governor's desire to fund our Virginia Retirement System is important. But it should not compromise other more important public education expenditures," said Dr. Pat Russo of Henrico Public Schools.

The superintendents called for more classroom investments that help recruit and retain teachers, and begin to make up the gap created by a struggling economy.

"I think we've hit bottom. I don't think we've started to move up yet back to where we were three or four years ago," said Dr. Marcus Newsome of Chesterfield Public Schools.

VASS did support the governor's proposal to repeal Virginia's so-called "King's Dominion" law, which calls on most schools to remain closed until after Labor Day. If it gets repealed, more school systems would have the option of opening earlier.

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