With a 10% budget cut looming for James City County due to the Governor’s shutdown, there are many people clamoring to get their fair share of relief funds. One group that has been extremely vocal about their budget shortfall is WJCC schools. 52% of the taxes collected by James City County goes towards the public school system. Yes, you read that right. Out of all of the taxes collected-real estate, personal property, business gross receipts tax, sales tax, Tommy Tax, and any other way they can take residents money, 52% of that money goes towards our school system budget.
Everything I’ve been reading about the sad state of affairs of our upcoming fiscal year shows deep cuts in arts, sports, music, extracurricular activities. . . all of the things that would get parents riled up enough to write in and demand that we not cut these programs. And that’s exactly what the administrators want you to do. They stand up and claim “Little Johnny won’t be able to play soccer. Little Josie wont be able to paint. Little Marie wont have music class.” But what they aren’t saying is that they are hiding in front of all of the administrative bloat that is occurring in our public school system.
Here is the list generated by County officials:
It uses terms like “elimination of middle school sports, combination of middle and high school bus routes, no field trips for students”. What is buried in this list is “reduction of central office administrators and staff.” What is the ratio of administrators to teachers?
The FY20 Operating Budget is $141,519,358 an increase of $3,710,414 or 2.7% over FY19. Per pupil spending is projected to be $12,825. An average 3.5% wage increase allocated for teachers, administration and support staff is included in this budget.
Here is a PDF document of the breakdown of costs for FY2020.
Budget Detail PDF
You will see the millions of dollars spent on things other than teachers’ salaries. Total personnel wages were $84,818,111. The teachers’ salary portion of that total is $49,540,078. So you may say that teachers are really not receiving their fair share of the budget. But you would have to look further into the “Fringe Benefits” category that is added to salary. That figure is $38,371,564 and includes health benefits, disability insurance, workman compensation, unemployment insurance, life insurance, Virginia Retirement benefits paid by the school system, and retiree health credits. There is also a line item for “Purchased Services”. We have no idea what that funds and it would be worth exploring.
27.3% of the total budget is for items other than instruction. It is disingenuous for the school board to panic parents into thinking that sports or arts / music will be taken away when there are so many other ways to reduce the budget that will not impact instruction.
The reason WJCC schools are in a budget bind is the James City County Economic Development office relies too heavily on tourism tax revenue and not enough on attracting corporations to the county.
I met with the Economic Development Director for James City County about 15 years ago and she was very honest with me. She said that the County is focused more in attracting businesses that had large machinery that they could tax, then attracting smaller, office based corporations that had no extensive personal property that would be subject to the County’s tax. I was shocked by her admission, but not surprised.
What this means for you
One of two things will happen with the upcoming budget cycle – Your taxes will increase (personal property, real estate, sales, business license etc) to compensate for the budget shortfall, or they will take away programs like sports, music, art in our schools lieu of cutting back on wasteful spending within the department.
What you can do
Don’t let them scare you. They have many options to reduce the administrative bloat that has been creeping into the WjCC school system, but they have relied too heavily on all of the local taxes including the newly funded Tommy Tax, to shore up their budget. Read the budget by line item then email the School Board and Board of Supervisors and ask if other types of spending can be reduced.
Email the The Economic Development office and tell them they should be pursuing non-tourism related industry to set up shop in the County so we are not hamstrung when another tourism shutdown is forced upon us. Tourism can’t be our primary source of tax revenue, and this latest crisis magnifies it.