Accomack School Division Looks to Other Funding Sources as Enrollment Declines

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By Stefanie Jackson – The Accomack County School Board got a sneak peek of the school district’s fiscal year 2023 operating budget Tuesday night from Finance Director Beth Onley, who reported that even though student enrollment has decreased, some revenues are expected to increase.

Accomack schools’ average daily membership or ADM last school year was about 4,695 students as of March 31, the last day on which ADM was calculated.

State authorities project Accomack’s ADM will fall to 4,568 in FY 2022, compared to the local projection of 4,675. The state projects a decline to about 4,555 in FY 2023.

In light of “uncertain times,” Onley recommended using the lowest number of 4,555 students when making revenue projections for the next operating budget.

Since state funding for Virginia public schools is provided on a per-pupil basis, fewer students usually means less state funding.

But despite declining student enrollment, Accomack’s and Northampton’s public schools may receive additional state funding starting in FY 2023, in the form of the Cost of Competing Adjustment or COCA.

COCA funding historically has been provided to Northern Virginia school divisions to help them offer higher salaries and compete with the Washington, D.C., area when recruiting teachers.

The Virginia General Assembly has been considering budgeting COCA funding for Accomack and Northampton to help them compete with nearby areas like Maryland and Virginia Beach.

Last year the General Assembly tested the idea by budgeting one-time funding of $2 million for Accomack and Northampton, of which Accomack’s share was approximately $1.6 million.

The General Assembly may approve permanent COCA funding this year for both counties, and the annual amount proposed is $3.5 million, Onley said.

If the permanent COCA funding is divided in the same way as the one-time funding, Accomack’s share would be $2.68 million, she added.

Budget Projections

Accomack schools’ revenue from sales taxes was more than $5.6 million for the FY 2022 budget and is projected to exceed $6.3 million for FY 2023.

The state is increasing per-pupil funding for the Virginia Preschool Initiative, so Accomack’s total VPI funding will increase from about $426,000 to more than $550,000.

Virginia is expanding the Early Reading Intervention from a K-3 program to a K-5 program, which comes with a hefty funding hike – from about $130,000 to almost $538,000, an increase of more than 400%.

The state is proposing less funding for summer school, but Accomack currently is funding its summer school program with Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funds, Onley noted.

The staffing ratio required for English as a second language is increasing from 20 positions per 1,000 students to 22 positions per 1,000 students, and Accomack’s state funding for ESL will increase from about $644,000 to approximately $909,000.

The state also has proposed nearly $128,000 of “hold harmless” funding related to the Virginia grocery tax that Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin has proposed to eliminate effective January 2023.

Virginia’s grocery tax is 2.5%, and about one cent of every 2.5 cents collected benefits public education.

Health Update

Coordinator of Student Health Services Tonya Martin reported that as of Jan. 4, Accomack had 45 new cases of COVID-19 and a seven-day average of 40 new cases per day, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

Accomack schools had a total of 14 teachers and 36 students who were positive for COVID-19 as of 5:30 p.m. Tuesday evening.

Martin’s advice was, “Stay home if you are feeling sick. That is the big one.”

She announced that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new COVID-19 guidance for K-12 schools, but no changes have been made to Accomack schools’ COVID-19 policies, as the new CDC guidance has not yet been thoroughly reviewed.

The new CDC guidance includes:

  • Anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 may now isolate for five days instead of 10 days if the person has no symptoms or decreasing symptoms and wears a mask around others for five days after the isolation period ends.
  • Anyone who has been exposed to COVID-19 and is unvaccinated or has not received a booster shot must quarantine for five days and wear a mask around others for an additional five days.
  • Anyone who has been exposed to COVID-19 but has received the second dose of the vaccine in the last six months, received the single-dose vaccine in the last two months, or received a booster shot does not need to quarantine but should wear a mask around others for 10 days.
  • Anyone who has been exposed to COVID-19 is recommended to take a COVID-19 test after three to five days. Anyone who develops symptoms should quarantine until that person tests negative for COVID-19.

School board member Edward Taylor asked if the school division had any plans to revert to virtual learning as local COVID-19 cases rise.

Martin said the COVID-19 numbers in Accomack schools show there is no reason to push for virtual learning at this time, and if virtual learning needed to be implemented in the future, it would target individual classrooms and schools, not the entire school division.

Superintendent Chris Holland said, “We should be so proud of being open. These kids cannot learn being home, unless they do Virtual Virginia. They need to be in school … socially, they need to be there. They want to be there.”

He thanked school board member Paul Bull for his work as school board chairman during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tuesday night, the school board voted for Ronnie Holden as chairman and Gary Reese as vice chairman for the new year.

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