It was recently published that the Chesterfield School Board, that has majority Republicans on the Board, are now recommending to the Chesterfield Board of Supervisors a .06 cent increase in the personal property tax for Chesterfield residents. It was rationalized that this was acceptable because the Chesterfield resident would not feel the impact. How? Well…because your assessments have gone down on your homes so significantly because of the recession, an increase in the tax rate will just keep you paying the same amount you did last year. So the Republicans think they have sneaked one by you by calling it a “revenue neutral tax rate increase.” Huh?

Do they not realize that in a recession people can’t afford to pay the same amount they were paying on their overinflated assessments from last year? We all have less money, so the idea should be to lower these prices (which is what assessments automatically do when it reacts to the economic conditions) so that people can get through a tough year. We already have enough foreclosures. Chesterfield is the 3rd largest county in Virginia, so while we have some neighborhoods who might be able to afford this, we have even more that this would harm.

What makes this more frustrating is the amount of spending. Chesterfield has spent almost $80 million on building one high school! I wonder how that makes the kids feel in the city or Richmond? Parents are having major heartache that their school might not have 3-4 school secretaries. We are all in a recession, so that means that everyone needs to shore up. The expectation that no adjustments should be made in the Chesterfield school budget is simply unrealistic.

What was also very compelling was this recent editorial published by Brenda Steward, an activist in Chesterfield, titled “School Budget Overshadows Good Stewardship.”

For those curious about why Chesterfield is facing cuts so much larger than Henrico, the best answer is that while Henrico reportedly limited year over year increases to 5%, Chesterfields school system went on a spending spree without limits. Furthermore, Chesterfield’s Superintendent apparently does not understand how the real estate tax system works.

In a recent letter to Chesterfield’s County Administrator, the Superintendent wrote, “Furthermore, given the challenges created by a decrease in the county’s tax rate over the past several years, we encourage you to support the recommendation of citizens throughout the county to implement a revenue neutral tax rate increase.“ The Superintendent apparently thinks that a reduction in the tax rate reduced his revenues. Not true.

From FY1999 to FY2009, the local personal property and real estate taxes allocated to the School Board rose from $145.2 million to $265.2 million, an increase of 77%. Allocations to the school system did not decrease, even in the years in which the tax rate decreased. During that time, the increase in students was 16%, or less than 2% per year on average. As recently as FY 2008, the school system received $20.3 million (9%) more from the county than in FY 2007. That same year the number of students increased by only 484 (eight-tenths of one per cent). The school system had forecast and budgeted for an increase of 1050 students (2%). The Superintendent overspent the year’s initially approved budget in both FY2007 and FY 2008 by 8.2% and 6.2% respectively.

In FY2007, the Superintendent spent 22% more than the amount approved for the previous year’s budget. That was $100.3 million more when student growth was about 2%. In FY2008 the Superintendent spent 16% more than the amount approved for the previous year’s budget. That was $84.4 million extra when student growth was eight-tenths of one per cent. With year-over-year spending of that magnitude, how is it that he cannot find enough places to cut when he has to eliminate $40-50 million from his budget without having such an effect on the teachers? Was he unaware of the huge increases in his budget during those years the tax rate was reduced?

The briefings that the Superintendent and his staff are giving to the Board of Supervisors and staff as well as to the public are very misleading. The charts are prepared using approved operating fund budgets as far back as 2005 when they should be showing actual expenditures from the operating fund. From the information already presented here, readers can certainly see why the actual expenditures from the operating fund are not being provided. They do not want us to know the extent of their runaway spending in recent years. Apparently, no one in a position of authority has been watching the checkbook.

The Chesterfield Board of Supervisors should not bail out the School Board. Where was the School Board when the spending was out of control? They were certainly not listening to the citizens who warned of just such a time as the present economic situation. That the School Board showered the already overpaid Superintendent with additional benefits that exceeded six figures in addition to his salary in a single year when he was overspending the budget by six and eight per cent per year could be considered irresponsible. That they did so at the time they knew of the impending budget crisis requiring teacher layoffs is shameful.

The Superintendent has a New Chief Executive to the Superintendent who makes $156,000 per year and four assistant superintendents making similar amounts. The Chief Executive to the Superintendent had an Assistant to the Assistant making $65 per hour last year. Central Office has dozens of people who are paid far above market. Citizens need to demand that the Superintendent clean up the top overhead and clear out those thinking up new programs we cannot afford now before cutting those who teach or directly interact with students.