PETERSBURG – Talks about the buget between the public schools in the city of Petersburg and the city council showed a major victory for teachers, but left unanswered questions about a future school replacement that has been talked about for several years.
The overall budget for public schools in the city of Petersburg is $ 58 million for 2022. Fifty-five percent of this funding comes from the state. About 17% comes from the city budget and the remaining 28% comes from sales tax, grants, local fees, electronic tariffs and food service funds. The city portion totals a fixed payment of $ 10 million for the year.
Superintendent Maria Pitre-Martin said the schools are asking the city for $ 11 million, but they were told beforehand that the amount would be $ 10 million. PCPS requested $ 11 million in 2021, but after the outbreak of the pandemic, that amount was reduced to $ 10 million. This $ 1 million reduction wiped out teacher increases planned for last year.
Pitre-Martin said that PCPS was adamant that it would receive $ 11 million to cover teacher increases for 2022. Then, an unexpected $ 1 million from the state for teacher increases helped. give teachers a total increase of 6.5%.
This increase consists of two parts. The first is a 5% increase although the state has provided funds, although PCPS still pays $ 600,000 to meet the cost of the $ 1.6 million increase. The second part is a 1.5% incremental increase. PCPS has granted increases of 3% or less over the past three years on the basis of public funding, but has not been able to grant incremental increases since 2017.
Ward 4 school board representative Celeste Wynn said these increases are a vital morale booster that shows teacher appreciation and, more importantly, reduces staff turnover.
“With the lack of turnover, what you all may or may not understand is that teachers don’t have the ability to relate to their students,” Wynn said. “… We know that the teacher is supporting you and you know that you can go to school and see the same face regularly for 20 or 30 years.”
About 73% of school expenses cover educational needs such as teachers’ salaries, benefits, books and school supplies. Ten percent of spending is on operations and maintenance, while the rest is split between technology, transportation, attendance, and health and administration.
The schools are also asking Petersburg for an additional $ 415,044 that would cover five new positions – a carpenter, a teacher, a gifted coordinator, a speech-language pathologist and an absenteeism case manager. School officials said the city’s additional funding would have to be maintained the following year or else those positions would be cut.
“That’s why it’s always important that we have our discussions with our municipal partners to find out how important it is to have consistent funding levels,” said Pitre-Martin. “… yes, you can give us extra funds for extra needs, but if you can’t support them, we’ll have to reduce them, or whatever.”
The five-year school capital improvement plan includes improvements totaling $ 32.8 million. Most of that expense is new school construction to replace Walnut Hill Elementary and Westview Early Childhood Education Center, both built in the 1950s and far out of use. Capital improvements total $ 5.3 million excluding construction of a new school.
From year to year, funding for schools remains fairly constant. The state, localities and other funding sources budget similar amounts year over year, while schools themselves do not make a profit. PCPS ended the last two budget cycles with an additional $ 66,000 and $ 156,000 in cash in reserve.
Asked about loan funding that could cover capital improvements, Dr Pitre-Martin said school systems in Virginia do not apply for loans themselves. Rather, it is the responsibility of the locality to secure funds and appropriate them to their school district.
“The question I get asked all the time is whether we can really build a new school, and I don’t know if we can,” said Pitre-Martin. “So at some point we will have to have some intense discussions about this.”
She said the conversations between PCPS and the city council about the needs of the school system have been positive.
The city council provided additional financial support through funding from the CARES Act and an unexpected allocation of funds that remained from 2016 and 2018. These remaining funds totaling $ 410,000 had been transferred to the school system account but never had been assigned to use. It was posted late last year on the condition that it be used for capital improvements.
This unexpected addition was used to help pay for 15 new HVAC systems in elementary school classrooms, new exterior doors for the high school, and window replacement at Pleasants Lane Elementary.
PCPS is also due to replace 15 buses over the next five years. Most of them are 15 years or older and have outlived their useful life. Funding from the city’s CARES Act made it possible to purchase a new bus for 2022.
Another capital requirement planned for 2022 is a new parent deposit loop for Westview. Ward 1 Councilor Treska Wilson-Smith spoke of the need for the upgrade, saying drop-off locations are unsafe for children.
“I don’t know how many city council members witnessed it or not, but in Westview and Walnut Hill it’s a serious traffic jam. It’s horrible, it’s scary, ”she said. “It is surprising that nothing has happened so far.”
Future capital improvement requests were for a new gymnasium for Petersburg high school totaling $ 130,000 and a country house at the school at a cost of $ 1.2 million.
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