Norfolk budget proposes no increase for schools

Budget includes no tax increase and $68.5 million for neighborhood improvements over the next five years

(Joe Fisher/WAVY Photo)

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The proposed 2018 budget in Norfolk calls for pumping millions in neighborhoods and pay increases for city workers, but the proposal gives no new money to the Norfolk Public Schools.

District officials asked the city last month for $10 million to help balance their budget. Doug Smith, interim city manager, proposed a budget with the same level of funding the district received last year, $118 million.

Smith says he crafted the $1.2 billion operating budget with fiscal discipline. He says while sales and meal/hotel taxes are on the rise and business is booming, Norfolk is still strapped for cash.

Document: Presentation of proposed budget

“The fact is that Norfolk is a fiscally stressed community,” said Smith, who said Norfolk is the most cash-strapped city in Hampton Roads after Portsmouth because of its amount of tax exempt property.

Mayor Kenny Alexander applauded the manager’s efforts at presenting a “balanced and structured” budget.

“It’s a proposal. The manager proposes, the council disposes. So we have opportunity to look at this budget,” said the mayor.

The plan includes $2 million for technology upgrades, $9 million for public safety improvements and $67 million over five years to revitalize five poverty-stricken neighborhoods.

Councilman Tommy Smigiel expressed disappointment after the budget presentation about the lack of additional funding for NPS.

“Not saying it’s a bad budget. It’s just at some point education has got to be, you know when we say we are committed to it as a priority, then we got to show that in our budget. I don’t see that in this budget,” said Smigiel.

Smigiel says $5 million of the district’s request is for teacher compensation. The other $5 million funds teacher positions and the re-institution of in-school suspensions, according to superintendent Dr. Melinda Boone.

The mayor says fulfilling the district’s request would come at the cost of cutting services, but he’s willing to have a conversation.

“I think there is some room for some additional money for Norfolk Public Schools but not $10 million without raising taxes or cutting critical services,” said Alexander.

Smigiel says the council could look to a Public Amenities Fund, that collects roughly $8 million annually,  that’s been recently used for economic development projects.

“Maybe it’s time to start looking at that money and saying, ‘if education is one of our top three priorities, why are we not dedicating some of that money to our school system,'” said Smigiel.

Rodney Jordan, chairman of the Norfolk School Board, did not wish to comment on the budget because it is not a final plan.

A public hearing on the budget is set for April 19 at 6 p.m. at Granby High School. The council will have three work sessions before adopting a final budget on May 23.