WINCHESTER — As of early Monday evening, more than 4,200 people had signed a Change.org petition urging the Frederick County Board of Supervisors not to cut Frederick County Public Schools’ budget request.
Supervisors Josh Ludwig, Shawn Graber, Blaine Dunn and Doug McCarthy last week supported a funding scenario that would reduce county funding of the school division’s operating fund by $22 million, from the advertised $97.5 million to $75.5 million. The $22 million would be placed in a reserve. The cut would represent a $17.3 million reduction from the $92.89 million that the county provided the schools this fiscal year.
Ludwig said last week that if the School Board provides a detailed budget and the supervisors find the school division’s funding requests justified, some or all of the $22 million in reserves could be allocated to school needs later in the year. However, if the supervisors do not find the requests justified, the $22 million would likely be reallocated to other county needs, such as transportation.
The petition, started by Millbrook High School senior Hal Grigsby, says a $22 million budget cut “would lay off hundreds of teachers, or decrease their salaries to an unlivable wage. Our teachers don’t deserve this, our students don’t deserve this. Please sign the petition to show the community objection to this proposed budget cut, and make our voices heard.”
While it would be up to the School Board to determine what cuts would need to be made to address a $22 million reduction, Frederick County Public Schools Superintendent David Sovine said it would equate to eliminating 293 teaching positions or a 16% across-the-board salary reduction for all school division employees.
Grigsby described himself in a phone interview as an “aspiring educator” and said his teachers have been role models to him, especially his Latin teacher. When he learned about the potential budget cut, he said he “needed to try and do something.”
“So I created a petition and I sent it to a few of my friends and was like, ‘OK, let’s try to get this going,’” Grigsby said. “And I was expecting maybe 80 signatures by Wednesday. I was really was not expecting anything close to what it’s become. But once it did, once it really took off, I really went with it and started posting it everywhere and had my friends post it everywhere to get as many as we could. And it just keeps going. It’s really awesome.”
He said he wants the Board of Supervisors to know “what they’re doing is not for the children and citizens of Frederick County, but it’s rather for a political agenda that is completely different from what is best for citizens.”
Frederick County Strong — a self-described non-partisan group of citizens formed on Facebook — has also voiced opposition to the proposed budget reduction. The group says it is focused on advocating for funding, championing and amplifying “the wonderful work that our public schools are doing in Frederick County.” Member Christie Jett says the group represents about 100 families.
Group member Jodi Yeggy, who has two children attending Frederick County Public Schools, fears the supervisors’ proposal will impact teacher salaries.
“We definitely see the cuts as being drastic and historic in measure, even more so than what happened following the Great Recession,” Yeggy said.
One of the driving reasons behind the proposed reduction is that several supervisors feel the school division has not been transparent enough in providing a line-item budget so they can see in great detail how money is spent. Additionally, Graber has often expressed concerns about the school division using taxpayer dollars on critical race theory or similar programs.
Frederick County Strong member Sonia Marfatia-Goode said it’s not the board’s role to dictate what the schools teach and believes the supervisors are “punishing” the schools. She called the proposed cuts “shocking” and said parents are “just tired of this political grandstanding.”
“I don’t care, you know, where your political leaning is,” Marfatia-Goode said. “Education should not be political. You know, they are punishing our kids by withholding funds.”
She added that teachers deserve to be paid “as much, if not more for what they do. They are not glorified babysitters; there’s so much planning that goes into taking care of each child’s education and more than just their education, their mental wellness and social well-being.”
Some supervisors have argued that even with a $22 million reduction in county funding, the school’s operating fund will be higher than last year. The operating fund for the current fiscal year is $194.975 million, while the school division’s proposed operating fund for FY23 is $219.58 million — a $24.6 million increase. If $22 million is subtracted from $219.58 million, the school’s operating fund would be higher than last year’s — about $197.58 million. Last week, Ludwig said, “Even with that cut, because Richmond has provided so much more funds this year, the overall school budget would still increase slightly.”
But school officials say this line of reasoning is flawed. Steve Edwards, FCPS director of policy and communications, said in an email that the School Board’s advertised $219.58 million operating budget included $24.6 million in new revenues. That includes:
- $8.4 million in federal ESSER III funds, which is restricted to COVID-related expenses such as HVAC improvements and closing the instructional learning gap created by school closures.
- $11.5 million in state revenue due to re-benchmarking the actual prevailing costs of the Standards of Quality (SOQ) that occurs every two years, to improve staffing ratios under the SOQ and to provide the state’s share of a 5% compensation increase for all SOQ instructional and support staff.
- $4.6 million that was requested from the county to provide the county’s share of the 5% salary compensation increase, two additional school bus replacements, and additional teachers and kindergarten instructional assistants.
Edwards noted much of that additional revenue is restricted to specific purposes. He added that Virginia’s budget is not finalized, so the division may not receive the projected $11.5 million in state funding.
School officials have said some of that $11.5 million in state revenue is contingent upon a local match. For example, Sovine said if the supervisors cut the school budget by $22 million, the schools will lose $3 million in state funding earmarked for teacher salary increases in FY23. He said that funding is only available to localities that provide the state-supported pay increase, which requires local funds in addition to state funds.
Edwards said some state revenue is for preschool. If the School Board decides it cannot afford preschool, the division would lose matching dollars from the state. The preschool program’s cost in the FY23 budget proposal is $613,152, which includes four classrooms and a part-time coordinator. Of that, $359,246 is state-funded and $253,906 is the required local match.
“The $22 million reduction proposed by members of the Board of Supervisors would significantly impact operations,” Edwards said in an email. “It would limit the ability to provide salary increases in FY23 which will further reduce state revenues, and possibly federal revenues.”
School Finance Director Patty Camery said Ludwig’s statement about Richmond providing “so much more funds” this year isn’t necessarily accurate because the state budget hasn’t been finalized.
“That’s not a true statement,” Camery said. “He doesn’t know that because we haven’t landed. So I think that in itself is kind of a little arrogant on his part to think that he can guess what the state’s going to do.”
If the schools receive the $22 million, Camery and Edwards said withholding the funds now creates issues because the school division will start to issue contracts for the upcoming school year in May. “It’s hard to do that if you don’t know if you’re gonna have $22 million in funding to address it,” Edwards said, and withholding money “doesn’t allow for good fiscal planning or practice.”
“And besides that, teachers won’t sign the contract,” Camery said. “They’ll just look to go somewhere else where they are guaranteed a salary.”