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Budget mistake may provide extra $1.6M to schools

On Thursday, June 30, within hours of a state-mandated budget deadline, the Colonial Beach School Board unanimously passed its 2011-2012 budget in the amount of $8,652,403, relying on Ordinance No. 605, passed by the Colonial Beach Town Council on Wednesday, June 29.

That amount is $1.6 million more than what Town Council meant to approve as the total local school funding.  However, an error in the formula used to calculate revenue totals appears in the second page of Ordinance No. 605.

A careful reading of Ordinance No. 605 shows the local transfer to the schools of $1,608,496 appears twice in the calculations.  First, the local transfer is shown on the ordinance as the total amount of the local school transfer.  Then the same amount, $1.6 million, is added to the

calculations for the School Operations, thereby doubling the school’s total local funding. 

The School Board had asked Town Council to appropriate $1.7 million, but in every public discussion on school funding, it was clear that the majority of council members were set to provide the minimum amount required by the state of $1.5 million. 

According to the newly passed school budget, the school is set to receive approximately $3,216,992 from the town of Colonial Beach.  When you add in state and federal funds expected of $5,435,411, you arrive at a grand total of $8,652,403, which is the amount approved by the School Board on Thursday night.

School Superintendent Donna Power remarked that “We had to pass a budget last night” and the school board did so based on the budget ordinance passed by Town Council.

Town Manager Val Foulds initially responded that there was “no mistake” in Ordinance No. 605 and further noted the budget has been prepared and presented this way since “at least 2008.” 

In a later conversation on Friday afternoon, Foulds reported that she is “contacting council, the mayor and the town attorney to ascertain the procedure to amend and correct the bottom-line error in the budget.”
 
It is unclear if the formula used by the town has resulted in past years’ mistakes, which have not been caught until the School Board and school accounting staff uncovered the error on Thursday.

Colonial Beach’s independent school system has been the center of a funding controversy for the last several months.  Citizens, school board members, teachers, parents, town council members and Westmoreland County Supervisor Larry Roberson have all spoken out in public urging council to level fund the school system.

Power has spoken publicly saying that the School Board will have to let go of seven paraprofessional teaching assistant positions if council provides less than level funding. 

On Wednesday, during a special budget meeting, council voted 4-3 to kill an amendment proposed by member Mike Ham that would have adjusted revenue figures in an amount equal to the $150,000 shortfall that would have resulted in council being able to provide level funding to the school system. 

Council members Karen Payne, Sparky Ridgely, Burkett Lyburn and Mayor Fred Rummage all voted “nay” to the amendment proposed by Ham.  Council did pass the original proposed budget, which provided $1.6 million to the school system.  However, none of the council members nor town staff noticed the mistake in the second page of the ordinance.

Foulds has prepared a budget “clarification/amendment” for council review which corrects the “School Operations” total amount to $7,043,907 and further corrects the “Grand Total All Funds” to $14,770,879.  Council will address the new budget amendment during a public hearing scheduled for its July 14 regular council meeting. 

Council members have indicated in public that once a review of projected revenue totals are complete and presented to the Council’s Budget and Administration Committee, the full council will vote on amending the amended budget to provide level funding for the school system probably sometime in August.

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