, 2014

Larson reports on year-end school spending

by Audrey Thomasson

Lancaster schools returned to the county over $235,000 in excess budget funds from the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2013. However, the Rappahannock Record obtained a copy of a recent report to the chairman of the board of supervisors from county financial consultant Jack Larson that supports his previous claims that the budget excess was actually closer to $900,000.

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Last June, Larson estimated the school district could have as much as $940,000 remaining in its coffers at the close of the year. At the same time, school finance director Sue Salg said the schools would return to the county only $150,000 in surplus funds because some funds would overlap into the next fiscal year.

Larson’s September 17 report states that during the month of June Lancaster schools expended $900,000, over three times the average month’s spending on non labor/benefit expenses.

“The conclusion that most of the goods and services purchased would be used in FY 2014 and therefore offset FY 2014 funds appropriated is inescapable.”

Larson referred to the Virginia Department of Education Superintendent’s 2012 Annual Report, which shows there are 144 public school systems in the state, however “...only 16 provided more total funding per pupil than Lancaster County.” He predicted the statistic would not change much for FY 2013 and FY 2014.

He debunked school administration claims that they have greater costs due to a higher than average poverty level. Using statistics obtained from the 2010 U.S. Census report, Larson showed Lancaster and Northumberland as having about the same population with 10.8% living below the poverty level while the state average was only slightly better at 10.7%.

“The Superintendent’s Annual Report also shows that only 55 of the 144 schools received less in federal funding on a per pupil basis than Lancaster County, leading to the question as to ‘why’ if we are at least as needy as other school systems,” he wrote.

Considering Lancaster schools are in the state’s top 10-12% in funding and in the bottom 5-10% in performance, based on Standards of Learning (SOL) tests which resulted in an “Accredited with Warning,” Larson maintained the county “has one of the most inefficient and ineffective school systems in the Commonwealth.”

Larson noted that the issue of a third nurse is a problem of the school board’s making. “They had several alternatives in cutting administrative positions that would not have generated the concern...that failing to fund the nurse position has.”

He said Lukich and the school board continually fail to make cuts on the basis of priorities, but choose instead to cut those areas that will create the most public demand for restoring funds.

“The problems that exist in Lancaster County schools must be solved with the school system itself and do not relate to funding,” he wrote.

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