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Schools Seek $1.8 Million

BUCKINGHAM – In a unanimous vote during its budget work session on Tuesday night, the school board agreed to request an additional $1,790,514.40 in local funding from the board of supervisors for its FY12 budget.

With current local funding at $6,243,396.00, the additional funding would bring the school board's FY budget request to approximately $8 million in local revenue.

Superintendent Gary Blair began the work session by noting they anticipate an additional $200,000 in state funding due to the recent updated budget information from the General Assembly. However, he explained they would not receive detailed information from the Department of Education until Friday, March 4.

Before presenting several budget options to the school board, Dr. Blair commended the community on their involvement in last Tuesday's public hearing.

“It was refreshing to see so many people here,” stated Blair. He offered, “The only thing that is worse than a troubled budget is a troubled budget that is met with apathy.”

Responding to Public Comments

Blair started his presentation by responding to some of the requests and concerns that were made during the public hearing.

“First, the issue of Gold Hill, the intent was to understand the cost of running the school and then making sure we could pay for that school, not only that but Buckingham Primary,” explained Blair.

“I admire not only Mr. Christian for his comments and saying he was not going to vote in favor of (closing) it but the rest of the board as well that agreed that Gold Hill must remain,” stated Blair. “In the months and years to come, I hope that the issue of closing Gold Hill was the best decision I never made.”

Moving on to comments about stopping the renovations to the two schools on Route 20, Blair explained, “The money that is used for that project is earmarked for that purpose. If we don't use the money for construction, we lose it.” Comparing the situation to someone wanting to use their mortgage to buy a car or pay other bills, he added, “We can't use that to keep positions…We have to use it for those renovation purposes.”

Regarding a suggestion about enacting a four-day workweek, Blair said it would be much too difficult for cafeteria workers and bus drivers. “The reduction in their salaries would devastate these families,” he stated. “I cannot in good conscience support a four-day work-week not just for our students but for the impact on those people. They would be working basically to pay insurance.”

Later in the work session, Blair referenced the cell phone contract that the board approved on February 22. He said he wanted to clarify that they were able to use Title VI funds for the student phones and also received a 57 percent e-rate rebate. With those reimbursements and rebates, they pay $11,000 a year for the phones, said Blair. He said he asked that they reduce the type of phone and plans, and were able to reduce that cost to approximately $7,000.

“I absolutely believe that we are utilizing these both instructionally and administratively for the welfare of students,” stated Blair.

The superintendent talked about the challenge of preserving all employees and their positions. “This is difficult because 77.8 percent of our budget revolves around personnel,” said Blair.

He stressed, “I do want to emphasize to everyone here, we do not hire anyone unless there is a direct or supportive need related to instruction. Our hiring reflects the needs of our students and all those mandates we must meet. We have no extra or unimportant positions.”

Blair continued, “I absolutely believe we must maintain our positions. They reflect our programs and our services to our students.”

He added, “Research demonstrates that the most significant factor in student success is teacher behavior. We must maintain our teachers. We must maintain our support staff so that our teachers can do what they are paid to do and that's teach not be distracted by other responsibilities.”

The superintendent shared, “Our students need us and they deserve us. There is no better money spent than that of a great teacher.”

Noting that at this time his proposed budget does not balance, Blair said he would be asking the school board to reach out to the board of supervisors to ask for additional funding.

“This decision does not come lightly,” said Blair. “My original intent was not to request additional funding.” However, he explained, “Our schools and our teachers need more money. We have more accountability standards than ever before; we have increased needs of students with specific disabilities and special circumstances.”

Blair continued, “We have demonstrated our success in recent years and don't want to jeopardize that.”

Blair's Proposals

Providing an overview via projected slides Blair said that with the projected $200,000 in additional state funds, the division needs additional funding of $1,790,514.40.

He offered several levels of cuts that he said he would recommend if additional funding was not approved.

The first did not involve what Blair described as modifications of personnel. It did include not purchasing three buses and reducing school allotments by 25 percent. Other reductions included eliminating middle school sports, which in turn eliminates the need to provide transportation for those students via the activity bus. Continuing, the cuts called for eliminating a one-time library system expense; eliminating two central office part-time positions, which Blair said he did not think would be needed next year; and the elimination of athletic bonuses for coaches.

Addressing the elimination of middle school sports teams, Blair stated, “I think our youth league will be able to handle the difference. Our students at the middle school level can still experience sports through our youth leagues. So eliminating that is $11,000.” Cutting out the activity bus takes off $20,000.

Blair explained that with those cuts, the additional funds needed would be $1,145,295.90. He offered, “These reductions, I believe we can make without being intrusive on the educational programs for our children. But, that's asking a lot. That's asking the county to come up with over a million dollars.”

In his next slide, Blair offered ways for additional reductions but as he pointed-out, those reductions involved eliminating positions.

Those positions included eight CSA aides, one regular aide, four middle school teachers; two part-time tech positions; and three division-wide positions.

With those cuts, the balance of additional funding was down to $588,143.40.

The last round of cuts, which brought the budget in line with the current budget, included eliminating gas for field trips, cutting the transportation and the maintenance budgets; and losing 11 additional positions.

“So now we are really cutting deep into positions,” said Blair. “That will allow us to present a balanced budget to the board of supervisors but that's at a terrible cost.”

He shared, “In talking with my colleagues in neighboring divisions, they've lost in excess of 40 positions in the last two years and we've not done that because both boards worked together.”

After going through the slides and before turning the meeting back to the school board, Blair offered, “I would like for each of you to trust our board of supervisors. Their passion and love for our children is no less than ours. They also have a very difficult task ahead.” He added, “I know they will give us every consideration. We are all on the same side. This is all of us trying to meet the needs of our children.”

He continued, “So my request is to ask for additional funding. And if they have it I have no doubt they will give us every consideration to help us preserve what we thought is important.”

If additional funding is not approved, Blair said they would have to go back to the surveys and make decisions based on what they want to preserve.

Blair reminded, “As Buckingham County schools grow, it takes money. And as Richmond uses the funds to build roads for today, let's not forget that we are building highways for tomorrow. Nothing is more important than giving our all to the children. And this means giving all we have to them.”

Discussion Ensues

Chairman Acie Allen asked how many positions would be lost if they did not ask for an increase in funding.

Blair responded that they would be talking about possibly 22 positions.

During the discussion, Blair reminded that the figures for state and federal funding were not finalized at this point.

David Christian asked if not buying the three buses would mean an increase in maintenance costs of the fleet. Blair said that would be hard to tell but he believed the cost would increase. He added that there was also the concern of the impact of increasing fuel prices, especially in light of a proposed cut of $10,000 for the transportation budget in option two.

Thomas Hutcherson shared, “I don't like the idea of eliminating sports at the middle school because the children are doing such an excellent job at sports.” Noting sports at the middle school prepares athletes for participation at the high school level, Hutcherson said he would like to see the program maintained.

Pete Gowin, a long-time coach and former athletic director, shared, “Being in sports all my life, I've seen a lot of young men and young ladies saved because of sports.” He said he felt eliminating sports at the middle school would be detrimental to the youth and the athletic program. “

“You are talking about $11,000. That's minor when you are talking about a $2 million budget,” said Gowin.

Sherry Ragland questioned not purchasing buses when they were trying to work on getting the fleet back to where it needs to be.

Kathy Midkiff asked if they could discuss the funding situation with the supervisors. Blair responded that they could request a joint meeting.

He added that the process needs to be an open one and one that allows people to understand the budget.

“And be thankful for what this board and the supervisors may be able to do for us,” stated Blair. “Because now since Richmond isn't supporting us, we've turned to local officials for support.”

At that point, Christian, noting that he could not find anything in the budget that could be cut without directly affecting the children, moved to ask the board of supervisors for the additional $1,790,514 in funding. With a second by Midkiff, the motion drew the board's full support.

After the action, Supervisor Joe Chambers, who was seated in the audience, stood and shared that he was in agreement with the board's action and definitely did not want to see the middle school sports program dropped.

Chambers stated, “I am in support of our school system. I think we have some great teachers here in Buckingham County. They have done a good job and I am very supportive.” He added, “And I hope and trust that I have three more supervisors down on 60 who'll do the same thing.”

When Supervisor John Kitchen was asked if he wanted to comment, he stated, “I expect I'd be better off if I say something when we get to the next meeting.”

Before adjourning the meeting, Chairman Allen offered, “We are all in this together.” He concluded, “What has happened is the feds, the state government has trickled this all down to us…It's all coming down to the local level. That is why we are all working together on this. There's no right or wrong. There's no they and us. We've got to work together on this.”