Harrisonburg City Schools Budget In Trouble?

Brent Finnegan -- October 28th, 2010

This is the second question for Harrisonburg City School Board candidates running in the west district.

hburgnews.com reader Dany asks, “Do you view our city school budget as “in trouble” or needing help? If so, do you view it primarily as a spending/management issue or a revenue issue? Please provide some explanation and/or examples.”

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Scott Baxter Relatively speaking, our city school budget is in better shape than many municipalities across Virginia. Through the work of the existing board and fund managers, difficult decisions have already been made through establishing clear educational priorities. Enrollment is above expectations and the new Educational Jobs bill will provide $1.1M in additional revenue over the next 2 years. The schools have been well supported by the City Council and the community. With some modest economy recovery, the revenue picture should improve through these various factors.

The top challenges I see with the budget are: 1) providing cost of living increases for our teachers and staff – with no raises in the past 3 years, it’s imperative that we retain teachers in the profession and not lose them to other careers; 2) optimizing the balance between buying more hard cover textbooks and investing in personal computing tools with e-books for our students; and 3) addressing the potential financial sanctions placed on HCPS if No Child Left Behind is not modified. I will lobby our elected officials in Washington, DC and Richmond to adopt a more realistic approach to measuring student achievement while maintaining accountability for the large investments made in education.

One example I would explore in the area of cost reduction/avoidance is select investments in newer, green technology. I’d like to see an energy audit done of our schools to understand where we might reduce energy consumption and cut utility costs. Those funds can be redirected from lighting classrooms to lighting passion in our students.

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Polly Fravel: During the current weakened economy, school systems throughout the country are experiencing difficulty funding their budgets. Harrisonburg has also felt the effects of this financial situation. Budget revenues come from federal, state and local sources and these revenues have been cut or level funded for the last couple of years.

The duty of the school board is to utilize the money appropriated from these funding sources and submit a budget to the City Council that demonstrates fiscal responsibility while keeping in mind the needs of all students. Collaborating with the superintendent and fund managers in the school system is important to attain this goal. Although past school boards have followed this objective, the weakened economy has required the current board to work even more diligently to find cost savings and prioritize programs and services by line item.

An example is the Energy Conservation program that was implemented. Combining the help of students, teachers and staff, the system has saved $267,000 in utility costs in the last two years. Continuing this program should result in additional savings.

As the economy struggles to recover, the future board will need to closely examine and prioritize programs and services to provide the best education possible with the allocated funding.

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Scott Baxter and Polly Fravel are running against each other for one open seat in the Harrisonburg City School Board West District.

Sallie Strickler and Stephen Barranco, Jr. are running for two open seats in the East District. Regardless of where you vote in the city, you will see all four candidates on the ballot.

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