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There are a lot of moving pieces this year as Rockingham County Public Schools and Harrisonburg City Public Schools look toward another budget season.

Depending on state and local funding, the budget can include raises, new positions, additional money for programs and more.

Virginia will soon begin developing its biennium budget, which means a new proposed two-year state budget, which always adds an element of surprise in terms of funding for education. It’s also a year when the governorship will change hands.

Gov. Ralph Northam will unveil his budget later this month. However, Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin will take over in January and release his budget.

Both the House of Delegates and the Senate will release their budgets as well. The General Assembly will then approve a version of all of these budgets, and that will determine how much money each school division receives.

All of this means it is harder to predict what the revenue picture will look like for RCPS and HCPS as they begin to build a fiscal year 2022 budget, RCPS Superintendent Oskar Scheikl said.

In the midst of a biennium budget, it’s a lot easier to predict what the second year will hold based on the first year. It’s also easier when the governorship isn’t changing hands.

Northam’s budget, to be unveiled on Dec. 16, will merely be a blueprint for what’s to come.

“There is no expectation that [the governor’s budget] will be the final budget,” Scheikl said, adding that Youngkin has promised “the biggest education budget in Virginia history.”

Whether this proves to be true remains to be seen after Youngkin takes office. In the meantime, there are a few issues that could come before the General Assembly that could impact education funding in Virginia.

The one that comes up every year is additional funding for teacher salary raises. Virginia is ranked 11th in terms of wealth but 23rd in per pupil spending, according to World Population Review.

Oftentimes, the state budget includes some funding for teacher raises, but relies on local governments to match the funding to a certain extent. If a locality can’t find the funding to match the state, it loses out on the funding entirely, Scheikl said.

But there has been historic precedent for the General Assembly to foot the entire bill of salary raises. It remains to be seen whether this will be such a year.

The second issue that Scheikl and other educators and administrators across the state will be watching is the potential lifting of a 12-year support position cap.

During the height of the recession in 2008-09, then Gov. Tim Kaine and the legislature agreed to add language to the budget that would put in place what was called a “cap” on support staff funding, cutting hundreds of millions in state funding for support staff.

The idea being to limit the hiring of “unneeded staff” in order to get spending under control, Scheikl said.

While it may have made sense back when school divisions were slashing positions year after year, it doesn’t make sense now, Scheikl said. Now, what it means is that when a school division wants to hire a behavioral assistant, for example, the entire bill falls to the local government to pay for it, Scheikl said.

By lifting the support cap, it would free up local funding for other things, Scheikl said. Or at the least, RCPS would not need to go to the Board of Supervisors year after year to ask for additional funding for positions that the state won’t pay for.

“It was a temporary measure to get spending under control, but it was never removed,” Scheikl said.

All of these factors will come into play as the Rockingham County School Board moves forward with developing and approving a budget for next year. Some years the timeline for this moves at a predictable pace. This year, however, Scheikl said he could not predict when state funding will be finalized, which represents more than half of the school division’s budget.

“There are politics that come into play,” he said.

Until then, Scheikl will continue meeting and hearing from principals and department heads about their budget needs. Those will be pared down once RCPS knows exactly how much funding it is working with in developing the 2021-22 budget.

Scheikl is expected to present his recommended budget in March.

HCPS Superintendent Michael Richards said of the upcoming budget season: “We won’t get a readout from the state until December 16. Until then, I won’t have anything definitive. At this time, we are simply having preliminary meetings with budget managers across the division to get an idea of their staffing and other needs.”

Contact Megan Williams at 574-6272 or mwilliams@dnronline.com. Follow Megan on Twitter @Valley_Learn

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