Education was 70 percent of IW budgets, now it’s half

Published 8:34 pm Tuesday, February 12, 2019

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Fifteen years ago, 70 percent of Isle of Wight’s total operating expenses was for public schools. Today, that slice of the pie has shrunk to 51 percent as other areas of the budget have grown in size, notably public safety and debt service, to name a few.

Debt service, in fact, is now taking 11 percent of all the money spent by the county. Fifteen years ago, it accounted for 1 percent.  

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Spending on education tends to be a point of debate — on both sides — during budget season, which is scheduled to begin this spring. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

“We believe in fiscal responsibility and will continue to serve Isle of Wight County students based on the funding we receive, and as we always have,” said School Board Chairperson Vicky Hulick.

“We (the School Board) will be asking for a different budget this year and hope the Board is supportive of the budget as we go forward,” she said, adding a few proposed increases are in health care and staff salaries. 

The Isle of Wight County School Board is scheduled for a first look at the fiscal 2020 operating budget on Thursday. 

When Isle of Wight is compared with counties statewide, its per capita spending on education falls short of average, according to the Comparative Government of Local Government Revenues and Expenditures.

In 2017, the report shows, Isle of Wight spent $1,596 for each man, woman and child in the county on education. That was 83.6 percent of the $1,909 average among Virginia’s 95 counties.

By comparison, Isle of Wight spent $1,202 per capita 15 years ago, or about 89 percent of the state average. 

During the ensuing years, spending for public safety and justice has gone from about 5 percent of Isle of Wight’s total operational expenses to about 10 percent, according to county budget reports. 

Part of that increase was due to a decision about a decade ago to fully fund the county’s volunteer fire and rescue organizations, as well as a heavier reliance on paid staff. Prior to that, the volunteer organizations shouldered much of the burden for raising money themselves. Other increases were due to the added costs of staffing the Young-Laine Courts Building and the animal shelter, as well as increases in the annual contribution to the Western Tidewater Regional Jail. 

Spending for categories such as parks and recreation and health and welfare was about 14 percent of the county’s budget in 2005, and by fiscal 2019, that had gone up to about 19 percent.

Over the years another category also took precedence — debt service. Representing 1 percent of the budget in fiscal 2004, today it has grown to 11 percent — or $11.8 million for fiscal 2019. 

About 28 percent of the county’s $238.6 million in debt is related to education. The bulk is for non-education projects. Those include costs associated with the new county courts building, the county administration building, industrial development land, the Blackwater River property and other capital projects.  {/mprestriction}