The proposed budget under review by the Harrisonburg City School Board includes a total expenditure of $79,986,528, a 5.62 percent increase from last fiscal year’s budget funds. This increase largely accounts for overcrowding and constant growth in the school system.
The budget, proposed by Superintendent Scott Kizner, includes a 2 percent staff salary increase, the addition of new personnel and operating costs that don’t relate to salaries and wages. Each of these areas of spending contributes to the increase in the budget.
Approximately $2.9 million of the $4,254,735 increase would come from the state of Virginia, while the rest would be covered by local dollars. Over 50 percent of the total budget would be covered by the state, while 43 percent would be funded by the city.
“[That’s] very reasonable compared to our growth,” Kizner said. “Our actual per pupil expenditures, what it costs to educate a child, any actual contribution at the local level has steadily declined, so we’ve been managing our budget well and receiving less money to operate our schools from the city.”
The budget proposes 25 new positions across the Harrisonburg schools, seven of which would be devoted to Harrisonburg High School. The addition of faculty members would allow HHS to expand from four 90-minute periods to five, freeing up class space and giving students the opportunity to schedule the classes they want.
The addition of a fifth period would require HHS to transport students at the end of both the fourth and fifth periods, which would increase transportation costs by $210,000. The proposed budget also has $300,000 devoted to capital improvements, the largest amount categorized under the $1,580,507 in non-personnel operating funds. This money would go to the implementation of six new trailers for the high school. Four of these trailers would be classrooms, one a bathroom facility and the other an area for teachers.
Many of the expenses, such as the trailers and increase in costs resulting from the addition of a fifth period, are temporary solutions to overcrowding. Harrisonburg City Council voted 3-2 to open a second high school in 2023, going against the School Board’s recommendation of opening a new school in 2021.
“We are a growing entity,” Andrew Kohen, vice chair of the school board, said. “Our student population continues to grow by somewhere between 2 and 4 percent every year, has been doing that for over a decade, and is projected to continue to do that. So, to some extent, to accommodate the growth in student population, yes, we have to propose increased expenditures.”
The high school isn’t the only facility that’s set to receive additional personnel and funding. To meet the state requirement for a maximum class size of 29 students in kindergarten and 30 students in grades one through three, more teachers have to be added at the elementary level as well.
Kizner said the middle schools in the system need more positions as well. Classes in certain departments are filling up beyond Kizner’s desired amount.
“We have some math and science classes that are getting close to 30 children,” Kizner said. “That’s unacceptable.”
The amount of state funding will be decided April 11 in the Virginia General Assembly. Until then, the amount of state funding — over half of the total funding included in the budget — is merely a guess, according to Kohen.
“We will go back and modify and amend, as needed, our budget request in light of what the General Assembly approves,” Kohen said. “In some sense, it’s a contingent approval that we will offer on April 3.”
On April 3, the School Board will either approve or alter the proposed budget before the request for local funds is made to the Harrisonburg City Council. The City Council will then determine how much local money will be allocated to the city schools budget.
“Our teachers are phenomenal and they will make anything work … Our kids are resilient like nobody else,” Cynthia Prieto, principal at HHS, said. “It is far from ideal. Now, are the teachers teaching up a storm? Yeah, absolutely. And are they doing a good job of it? Yes, absolutely. But this is not the way to do it.”
Contact Thomas Robertson at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU