Virginia Beach Schools tally unfunded mandates, come up with $44 million list of 27 directives

No public organization likes unfunded mandates — those directives from another level of government that cost money but don’t come with any extra funding.

Virginia Beach Schools now have a list detailing exactly how many unfunded mandates they have and how much they cost. The analysis, which school officials think is one of the first of its kind in Virginia, was done to help the district make its case with state legislators.

“We hear from our legislature, ‘Don’t just tell us to increase your funding. Tell us where you want to see the increased funding,’ ” Superintendent Aaron Spence said.

The School Board’s 2016 legislative agenda said the district “is opposed to any state mandates requiring local school divisions to assume additional responsibilities or provide additional services without the state’s share of funding for such mandates. VBCPS supports the elimination or funding for current unfunded mandates.”

The district’s operating budget this year was just less than $690 million. Of that, $44 million goes to cover state and federal unfunded mandates, according to the schools’ analysis.

“The issue is that when the General Assembly passes mandates for things that we have to do – we have to find those dollars among the funds that we do have,”  Spence said.

Most of the time, Spence said, that means dipping into local funding. That contributes to situations where the district must rely on funds left at the end of a fiscal year to cover gaps in the operating budget, he said.

Spence said many of the mandates cover worthy endeavors, but the district would like more funding to help meet them. They range from requirements on new bullying prevention and oversight programs to regulations for gifted learning and special education.

The school district’s list spans 15 pages and includes 27 mandates. Here are a few of them:

  • Special Education Programs and Instruction: The school district has about 9,000 students with disabilities. The district requested that to meet the ideal funding level for special education that the federal government covers 40 percent of the “excess costs” that come from the requirements in the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. These excess costs total about $23.8 million.
  • Concussion Management Program: The Virginia General Assembly mandated that schools are required to have this program in place. To meet the requirements the district purchased the ImPACT program for its high school athletic departments and now employ athletic trainers at each middle school and high school. Previously, a few middle schools shared trainers depending on need. These costs total about $538,000.
  • Physical Fitness Requirement for 8th Graders: Students in the 8th grade have the option of not taking the school’s Health and Physical Education class, but according to the Virginia Department of Education they still are required to complete a separate program of physical fitness. As of August 2015, 1681 8th graders opt-ed out of Health and PE, which required nine instructors to teach these students. That costs the school district around $585,000.
  • McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act: This federal law requires the school district to provide transportation for homeless youth who may live outside of the school district’s attendance zone. The costs to the district have increased drastically in years jumping from $458,000 for the 13-14 school year to $600,000 for the 14-15 school year.

School and city officials have said they believe state funding for schools will increase this year. Governor Terry McAuliffe is expected to release his budget in December.

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