How a Virginia Department of Education mistake could affect a school system’s ability to hire

Prince William County schools could cut back on hiring after a Virginia Department of Education error left school systems with less funding than expected in the 2023 and 2024 fiscal years.

Virginia’s second-largest school system may cut back on hiring for certain positions after a Virginia Department of Education error that left school systems reeling with less funding than expected in fiscal years 2023 and 2024.

At Wednesday night’s board meeting, John Wallingford, chief financial officer for Prince William County Public Schools, said the error will cost the district $4.3 million in the current fiscal year and $10.7 million in fiscal 2024.

As a result, board Chairman Babur Latif said if the cuts continue, the district will likely cut back on special education teaching assistants and possibly coaches. The only two things the district can cut, Latif said, are salaries or new positions to fill.

However, that could make it more difficult to meet the school system’s goal of having 350 special education assistants by 2025. Final decisions will be made in March, Latif said.

“This loss of revenue could significantly impact our ability to meet that goal,” Prince William County Schools Superintendent Latanya McDade said at a meeting Wednesday night.

It marks the latest fallout from the state’s miscalculation, which Wallingford said occurred because sales tax revenue for local school systems goes through the local composite index. The index is supposed to measure a region’s ability to fund public schools.

An Education Department spokesman told The Associated Press that “this was a human error on our part.”

“When VDOE originally shared these numbers with us, what they didn’t do was run those numbers through the local composite index, actually overstating those revenues,” Wallingford said.

In a letter this week to Sens. Janet Howell and George Barker, and Del. Barry Knight, who was obtained by WTOP, Youngkin said that the situation “disappoints all of us, especially since it became known after I presented the proposed budget. .”

“I am asking that when you finalize your budget amendments this week, you include the necessary resources to correct this error,” Youngkin wrote in the Feb. 1 letter.

It’s unclear whether Youngkin or state lawmakers will provide additional funding to school systems to account for the error. Scott Brabrand, executive director of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, said in an email that he expects the situation to be resolved.

“Superintendents across the Commonwealth are deeply concerned about this funding error,” Brabrand said in a statement. “We urge State Superintendent Ballou and the State Board of Education to work with the General Assembly and the Governor to correct the impact of this error on our students and schools. Active solutions must be sought. VASS will work closely with state leaders to fully remedy this situation.”

In Fairfax County, school system officials said the direct impact of the state error is unclear, but it will reduce the district’s proposed fiscal year 2024 budget by $12.7 million.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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