Proposed City School Budget Has Unfunded Needs

by Adele Uphaus
MANAGING EDITOR AND CORRESPONDENT

There are $4.7 million worth of unfunded needs in the budget for fiscal year 2025 proposed by Fredericksburg City Public Schools superintendent Marci Catlett.

Catlett and the division’s chief financial officer Jennifer Brody presented the budget to the School Board at a special meeting on Thursday.

The division expects to receive about $2.35 million less in funding next year from the state of Virginia, based on Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s proposed budget, Brody said, and is looking at a $2.31 million increase in expenditures.

The decrease in state funding is a result of an increase in the local composite index, which is a measure of the locality’s financial ability to support public education.

The Virginia Department of Education recalculates the LCI every two years for the biennial budget.

When the LCI goes up, the amount of state funding goes down—and Fredericksburg’s LCI for the 2024-26 biennium went up by 3.5 points. The division now has the 19th highest LCI in the state (out of 132 divisions) and is one of just 13 school divisions that saw increases over three points, Brody said.

The state considers five factors when calculating the LCI—the true value of real property, adjusted gross income, and taxable retail sales, all of which increased; and the school division’s average daily membership and city population, both of which decreased.

Average daily membership is the factor that receives the most weight, Brody said.

“But the formula does not fund the needs of our students,” she said.

The LCI increase equates to a loss of $1.4 million in state funding. There is also a $148,000 reduction in sales tax revenue and $753,000 in grocery tax revenue.

Finance staff worked to reduce proposed expenditures by cutting 2% for all non-payroll budget lines and 50% for travel budget lines, Brody said.

The School Board’s top budget priorities for fiscal year 2025 are staff recruitment and retention and increasing achievement in special education. To achieve these priorities, Catlett’s budget would provide a 3% salary increase for teachers and a 2% salary increase for other staff.

In the last two fiscal years, licensed staff have received raises of between 13% and 22.5% and all other employees have received 10% raises, Brody said.

Catlett’s proposed budget would also add a special education behavior diagnostician and behavior specialist; provide stipends for staff in adaptive classrooms; and focus on funding “high-quality professional development” for special education staff.

Other identified needs include:

  • implementing additional instructional programming (for the Virginia Literacy Act, gifted education and Governor’s School)
  • expanding the James Farmer Scholars
  • continuing the Tiger Paw Academy, an after-school tutoring program at Walker-Grant Middle School that runs four days per week
  • increasing the substitute teacher budget
  • funding year two of the lease of the weapons detection systems at Walker-Grant and James Monroe High School
  • continuing positions that are currently funded by pandemic relief money, which will expire in September (three student support specialists, a high school math specialist, a dean of students at Walker-Grant)

All of these needs are included in the proposed budget but are not funded.

“We have put everything out that we need,” Catlett said.

The General Assembly has not yet finalized the state budget, and both the House of Delegates and the Senate versions are more supportive of public education than the Governor’s budget.

“I’m confident there will be more funds,” Brody said, adding that she expects updated revenue estimates to come next week.

School Board Vice Chair Matt Rowe praised the proposed budget for its “honesty.”

“This budget meets a lot of immediate needs,” he said. “I think we’d be hard-pressed to find one need that’s not critical. I appreciate the honesty of this budget.”

There will be a public hearing on the school division’s proposed budget on March 4 and a joint School Board and City Council work session on April 2.

Managing Editor and Correspondent