The COVID-19 pandemic is leaving its mark on the district’s budget. There is a potential shortfall of $5 to $7.5 million.
Most of the shortfall is due to an enrollment decline of nearly 1,000 students and the loss of levy equalization funds from the state. The potential loss of state transportation funds and a decline in revenue generated through school meals add approximately $3 million to the shortfall.
VPS received $5.4 million in CARES Act federal dollars, which were applied to the added costs of technology, personal protective equipment and training for teachers.
Remote learning has reduced some expenses in school and district budgets. A hiring freeze, attrition and temporary furloughs also lessened the shortfall.
In addition, district leaders applied $3 million from the reserve fund. Unlike a so-called rainy day fund, a reserve fund cannot be used entirely at the district’s discretion. More than two-thirds of the fund balance is restricted or assigned for special purposes; it cannot be used to balance the budget. Furthermore, the fund balance is one-time money set aside for essential items such as self-insurance, start-up costs for new schools and unexpected events such as major equipment or roof failures. After the reserve funds are used, the district can’t access them in future years.
Potential support from federal and state sources could help address the remaining projected shortfall. Assistance may come from a federal economic stimulus package and/or a state provision allowing districts to receive transportation dollars.
To date, furloughed paraeducators and secretarial/clerical staff either have been recalled or soon will be brought back. Some furloughed bus drivers have returned as in-person learning is being provided for small groups of students. In a report to the board of directors, Superintendent Steve Webb did not recommend permanent layoffs to address the budget shortfall; instead, he suggested that an additional $6 million from the reserve fund could be used to bridge the gap if needed. This money had been earmarked for school-wide support staff at two new elementary schools scheduled to open in fall 2022.