Lynchburg City Schools will be able to save a handful of teacher positions with new money packed into the state budget.
The schools expect to get about $722,000 more than anticipated under the General Assembly-approved budget.
Most of it — $469,000 — will be pumped into higher Virginia Retirement System costs.
But $253,000 was earmarked to protect k-3 classroom sizes, allowing the schools to take a few teachers off the chopping block.
“I would use that money to begin to restore the cuts made in classrooms,” Superintendent Scott Brabrand said during a City Council meeting Tuesday. “… It would be used to lower the ripplets.”
The schools were planning to nix 47 jobs, including 34 teachers. An estimated five teachers can be saved with the added state funding.
Other cutbacks — including charging fees for certain sports and music programs — remain on the table.
The other big block of state money will be used to offset a more than $500,000 rise in VRS costs created by the 5 percent cost swap passed by the General Assembly.
School employees will be required to pay 5 percent of their salaries into VRS, which will defray the division’s required percentage contribution. But employees will get a 5 percent raise — increasing overall division costs for VRS, FICA and other expenses tied to salary levels.
The state budget, still awaiting approval by the governor, gaveLynchburgschools $469,000 to use against VRS costs, non-personnel inflation or one-time preschool costs.
The schools have the option of phasing in the 5 percent swap and spreading out its cost hikes over five years, but Brabrand recommended doing it in one bite.
The city manager made the same recommendation for the city side of the VRS changes.
Council considering paring back its local increase in school funding in light of the higher state aid, but Brabrand, who started just this month, asked them to give him a chance.
“I understand you demand excellence from Lynchburg City Schools and maybe over the last several years you haven’t seen it,” he said in response to questions about limping test scores and graduation rates.
“But give me a chance to put some points on the board. … I need a chance to build a team of excellence, and I can’t do that if I can’t field a full team to compete and win for our kids and for our future in Lynchburg City Schools.”
Brabrand said he’s committed to raising test scores and graduation rates. Every school will have an improvement plan in the next year and every principal will be re-evaluated, he said.
He rebuffed suggestions the city should be compared to surrounding counties. The city has a higher percentage of impoverished students, which brings a different set of challenges.
Bass Elementary School has both the poorest student body and the highest test scores in the region. But it gets about $2,000 more per pupil than any other Lynchburg elementary school because of grants and Title I funding, Brabrand said.
“So excellence comes at a price and it does not come cheap,” he said. “… I think we have to decide what kind of city do we want? What kind of quality of education?”
Council, which planned a $3.7 million increase in local school funding, considered a motion to divert $720,000 of that into police salaries. The proposal was voted down 4-3.
“I will not pit our education against our public safety,” said Mayor Joan Foster, who voted to keep the full $3.7 million for schools.
Councilman H. Cary, who voted for the transfer, said police salaries are embarrassingly low and have created a critical turnover problem among officers.
“We need a good police force with experienced officers,” he said, adding he doesn’t want to see more “Mr. Bakers lying on the sidewalks of Lynchburg.”
George Baker, an Arizona man in town for his granddaughter’s wedding two years ago, was killed by a group of teenagers.
“We’ve got to turn our turnover rate around so police officers want to stay here and not go anywhere else,” Cary said. “Frankly, money is one of ways we do that.”
Vice Mayor Ceasor Johnson said he wasn’t “going to play this game.”
“I really appreciate everyone’s true colors coming out now,” he said. “… I’m going to stick with the schools on this one.”
On the split vote, council elected to give the schools the full $3.7 million increase proposed. Total local operating funding for schools in the new budget is $35.6 million or about $4,300 per pupil.