Portsmouth schools receive $6 million increase

Jordan Crawford | 6/4/2014, 1:40 p.m.
The Portsmouth school district has received a $6 million extra.
Danny Meeks is convinced that Portsmouth schools need the $6 million increase it was given.

Last Tuesday, City Councilman Danny Meeks, a strong critic of school division spending, initiated a push that led to giving the Portsmouth school district $6.4 million more for the 2015 fiscal year than what City Manager John Rowe had recommended.

Meeks said school officials convinced him the schools need the money.

The action came as the council voted to adopt a $619.6 million budget for 2015, which includes a 3 percent raise for city workers and no increase in property taxes.

Instead of including the school money with its budget adoption, the council gave it in a separate appropriation.

The division had requested about $59 million from the city. Rowe had recommended giving the division $46 million. With the $6.4 million approved by a 6-1 vote, the council met the division halfway.

At the council’s last meeting, Meeks led the effort to give another $3 million to the school division.

In April, government accounting experts found the school division had continued to evade state law more than a year after a special grand jury admonished the division for its financial actions.

In the informal council meeting last Tuesday, Rowe cautioned members against using money in the city’s fund balance for the additional $6.4 million, warning that such a decision could lead to a downgrade in the city’s bond ratings. The council decided to do it anyway.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Psimas objected, saying she didn’t want to dip into the fund balance.

“I just think it’s the wrong approach,” she said.

Chris Steele, an assistant superintendent for the division, said the money would help pay for pensions and health insurance cost increases.

This budget will include a 30-cent-per-pack increase in the cigarette tax and an increase in the annual motor vehicle licensing fee to $32 for cars.