Boards Talk School Budget

Published 4:28 pm Tuesday, February 22, 2011

CUMBERLAND – Cumberland's School Board and Supervisors sat down together last week to discuss the 2011-2012 fiscal year budget for Cumberland County Public Schools.

The School Board had requested earlier in the week that the Superintendent add six additional teaching positions into the proposed budget, which roughly doubled the local request that was being asked for from the County.

The original local county request that was detailed in Dr. Amy Griffin's Superintendent's budget was $334,713.81. With the addition of the six teaching positions requested by the School Board, after hearing the budget presentation on February 14, the local request jumped to $667,409.48.

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Those requested six teaching positions included restoring two foreign language teachers; one physical education teacher; one financial literacy teacher; one career and technical education teacher; and one chorus teacher.

Note: The amounts being discussed by the School Board and Superintendent are in addition to the level-funding amount that was appropriated for the current fiscal year by the County to the school division.

“Let's talk about this figure,” said Chairman Van Petty, while drawing the focus back to the school's local request over level funding from last year. “Just tell me what it includes, I know it includes those six teachers…Let's just say if you don't get $667,000-where are you? What are you going to have to shut down if you don't get that?”

Dr. Griffin noted that her “survival” local funding request ($334,713.81), which does not include the requested teachers, would only require the Board of Supervisors to appropriate the school approximately an additional $179,000 for the fiscal year to assist with operations due to the health insurance surplus that is available for transfer from the County amounting to $155,000.

“We have to have the portion that pays for the VRS rate and we have to have the $69,000, which is the decrease in the state funds, and we definitely have to be able to survive with what we are doing this year and that was the $334,000,” noted Dr. Griffin about her 'survival' budget that was first sent down Route 60 to the County Administration as the school's first request. “That was my Superintendent's budget to survive next year with what we are doing this year. Doing what we are doing now… If you fund us like last year (level funding) that will be catastrophic.”

The additional six positions that were added to the budget by the School Board last week almost doubled the local request amount presented to the Supervisors at the work session.

One of those needed positions, a financial literacy position, could be a mandated course next year for students if certain legislation is passed during the General Assembly, according to the discussion.

According to Chip Jones, director of finance and operations, with the $334,000 local request above level funding from last year in Dr. Griffin's original proposed budget, that is 'survival.'

“That really is survival. It gives no wiggle room at all,” he said. “That means if there was a student that came in that needs a special requirement or a one-on-one aide or to go from here to Washington D.C. who knows-that gives you no wiggle room…. or a huge law suit. There is not a lot of wiggle room. This year we are paying $2.36 in gas and diesel and $1.55 for propane. Who knows when we go and get the new price come August? Right now, that $2.36 looks pretty good but when I locked in gas was at $2.19 and I was a little nervous. That $344,000 is a need-it's tight.”

Another funding need for the school identified by the Supervisors in the work session was the roof on the VoTech building that needs work completed soon and the funding has been identified in this fiscal year's capital improvement project's listing for the County that is estimated to cost $250,000.

“Something has to happen with that and when you are looking at all these things…we know we have to protect the roof and it protects the equipment and the kids and the debt service has to be paid…I'm just trying to get ya'll to understand that we can't pull a rabbit out of the hat and we've killed all of our rabbits-they're gone,” noted Petty about the outlook of the County's budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

Tax Increase?

According to Ms. Matthews, if the County was to fund the requested $3,772,114.48 (this amount includes the Board's requested six teachers) and capital improvement project for the needed roof work there would have to be a tax rate increase in the County.

“We tend to have to, out of necessity, look at everything in relation to the tax rate,” asserted Ms. Matthews. “The $677,000 combined with the $250,000 for the roof equates to an 11 cent tax increase on top of the 18 cent rate increase that was put in place for the current fiscal year because at this point there are additional revenue sources for next year as opposed to what is currently there.”

Supervisor Elbert Womack said, “At some point you are going to bankrupt the citizens of this county. When we look at this thing…we are looking at the whole nine yards… There is only one source for us to get our money from and that's from the real estate taxes.”


Supervisor Bobby Oertel asked how the elimination of the school division's contract for lawn care as a cost saving would impact the County's budget?<br />
According to Ms. Matthews, if the school eliminated its contract for lawn service totaling $48,000 then the County would have to hire an additional employee in its maintenance department just to take over the school.

“You just can't cut it out,” he said. “Somebody's got to do it.”

According to Dr. Griffin, for the lawn care to be included in the school division's budget it would increase the local request amount from the Board of Supervisors.

“It was hard for me to say that I'm going to cut a teacher over keeping lawn service,” she said about her rationale behind identifying the elimination.

“I love the job that they do,” she said about the current contract for lawn care. “But it would be a person. We've cut everywhere we know where to cut…”

Chairman Petty noted that although something might be eliminated in one budget “it still doesn't go away” and “will still be there.”

Other eliminations identified by Dr. Griffin in her Superintendent's budget included a central office administrator, one bus lease, and a decrease in unemployment.

“Currently, this year, we have two bus leases,” noted Chip Jones, director of finance and operations. “We are getting ready to pay off one set of leases that we bought four years ago this spring. So instead of buying another set of buses we put it out of the budget. So next year we'll only have one bus lease and we'll have about three more years to pay on that but as you know because we cut that, our fleet still gets older.”

Debt Service

The County carries the school division's debt service (approximately $3.5 million for the new Middle and High School complex) in its own budget, according to Ms. Matthews.

“At one point we fed some of the Lottery funds through the County and at one point we took over most of the construction debt service and the following year we took over the AMERESCO debt service until at this point, there's no capital debt service included in the school…Right now, it's all pulled out and it's shown in the County's budget,” explained Ms. Matthews. “There's about $3.5 million a year of school debt service included in the County's budget…There's been a lot shifted…”

Governor's Budget

Dr. Griffin's budget is based on the Governor's proposed budget that was presented in December and according to her remarks to the Board of Supervisors, the House version and Senate version currently being debated in the General Assembly vary on funding projections.

“The Senate is most generous to public education…,” she noted about following the funding in the General Assembly.

The Governor's proposed budget projects a state funding deficit for Cumberland of $69,851 (which includes the elimination of the Hold Harmless on the local composite index and an increase in sales tax revenue) and an increase in VRS employer's contribution rates from 8.93 percent to 12.16 percent amounting to $234,000.

Lottery Funding

School Board members Ginger Sanderson relayed to Supervisors that the Lottery Funding amounts outlined on the lottery's website can be misunderstood.

“People will pull it up and say, 'Can't the Lottery funds pay for this and aren't you getting all of this? Where is it?'” noted Ms. Sanderson.

“Make sure they are reading the fine print,” she said.

According to Dr. Griffin, the state has supplanted the “basic aid” line item in state funding for school systems with Lottery funds.

“Yes, we're getting Lottery funds but it's funding the basic aid and that's why we have to really ask the state, “Are they really fulfilling their state obligation of funding public education basic aid because they are using lottery funds for their share?'” asserted Dr. Griffin.

For the 2011-2012 fiscal year budget, lottery money has been identified by the state to fund, at risk, early reading, foster care, kindergarten through third grade class size, school breakfast program, algebra readiness, Virginia's pre-school initiative, ISAEP, ESL, the remedial summer school program, career and technical education, and textbooks.

“They are initiatives that are set at the state level,” advised Ms. Sanderson about them being funded by lottery funds this year through basic aid.

Borderline of Competitiveness

The school system had to institute a five-percent pay decrease last budget cycle for this current school year due to budget constraints and lost 31 positions.

“We are on the borderline of competitiveness,” said Dr. Griffin about her future goal to begin to work towards bringing employees and salaries back up to where they once were.

Re-establishing salaries and benefits for staff is a long-range goal for the Superintendent when the budget allows for this, she said.

Last Thoughts

“I'm going to take a moment to commend Amy on putting this together,” said Dr. Ross about the budget presentation. “We had told her when she first went over the budget that every year we had kind of battled back and forth with Central Office and administration trying to understand where the money was…We could never quite understand it and she has done a phenomenal job making this easy to understand and knowing what money is coming in and what money is going out…In fact, I think they've done an excellent job finding those pockets of money and putting them back in so that we can see what is what. That goes for Chip as well. Thank you Mr. Jones.”

“We cannot sustain another year of reductions of the magnitude taken in 2010-2011,” noted Dr. Griffin in her message that was included in the budget packet for Supervisors to review. “The increased workload, drastically reduced resources and functionality of our staff, and other significant challenges are clouding our focus and limiting our effectiveness. This is why we are proposing no additional reductions in programs and personnel in 2011-2012.”

According to Dr. Griffin, the school division is at the “bare minimum” as it relates to standards of quality and states mandates.

“There is no place to cut,” asserted Dr. Ross at one point. “We are out of ideas and there are definitively no ways to make it work with level funding.”

The school system's budget presented to the Board was based on receiving $2,514,276.50 in federal funding; $8,412,293 in state funding; and a local appropriation request of $3,772,114.48 ($667,409.48 local dollars). Dr. Griffin's original Superintendent's budget was based on a local appropriation of $3,439,418.81 ($334,713.81 local dollars).

The School Board is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the proposed budget on Thursday, February 24 at 7 p.m. in the Middle/High School cafetorium.