Lychburg City Schools to hand more than $800K back to city

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LYNCHBURG, Va (WDBJ7) -- After months of saying they were strapped for cash and asking the city for more funds, Lynchburg City Schools will give back more than $800,000 due to a budget overestimation.

In a press release Thursday, Lynchburg City Schools said the district will be returning a total of $826,000. The city had provided that money, in addition to the regular school budget, to pay for teacher raises for the 2019-2020 school year.

After further review, the district now says it has sufficient funds in its original budget to cover the cost of the raises.

It comes after months of budget battles that started back in December, when Gov. Ralph Northam set a goal of raising teacher pay 5 percent across Virginia.

The state would provide some funds, in exchange for a matching amount from local governments.

Lychburg Public Schools would have to provide $3.4 million towards the raises. However, after scrounging for the cash within their existing budget, school officials were only able to come up with $2.4 million.

As a result, Superintendent Dr. Crystal Edwards went to Lynchburg City Council on March 26 looking for funds to fill the gap to fill in the gap. After tense negotiations, council agreed to provide $862,000.

In their Thursday press release, Lynchburg Public Schools blame the error on "differences" between budget projections and the current budget, resulting in an "over-estimation of funds needed to support salary increases."

They say they'll be returning all $862,000, and bringing in an outside financial consultant, while at the same time hiring another firm to conduct a "forensic audit" of school finances.

In the release, school officials say they're "committed to the highest level of integrity with regard to using tax payer dollars wisely."

Jeff Helgeson is a member of Lynchburg City Council. During the budget negotiations, he argued against providing the school district with additional funding.

Thursday he said he's grateful the district identified the error, and is returning the money.

"I'm very thankful when our new superintendent discovered this, she did the right thing. She was honest and ethical," he said.

Helgeson added that he hopes this will serve as a wake up call for officials.

"Hopefully, gone are the days of rubber stamping, and simply being a cheerleader for the school system, but they'll actually look out for our tax payers," he said.