Answers Sought On Budget

Published 4:23 pm Thursday, April 21, 2011

BUCKINGHAM – After a performance by Buckingham Primary School students on Famous Americans; and, the presentation of VIP Awards to Buckingham Primary, Gold Hill Elementary, and Buckingham County Middle School, the school board took-on the more taxing items on its April 13 agenda.

FY12 Budget

The most pressing issue facing the school board was the proposed FY12 budget.

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Earlier in the week, the board of supervisors held its public hearing on the county's proposed $42.4 million budget.

Before that hearing, County Administrator Rebecca Carter provided a comprehensive overview of the proposal, which supervisors will consider for adoption on Monday, April 25 at 6 p.m. (please note the meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. rather than its usual 7 p.m.).

During Wednesday's school board meeting, Chairman Acie Allen, sharing that he went to that April 11 meeting with positive expectations, stated, “I came out of the meeting on Monday night feeling shell-shocked, quite frankly.”

He shared, “I felt very much like we as a group were being attacked.”

The chairman continued, “The figures seem to be a lot different.” He told the audience that he asked Superintendent Dr. Gary Blair to try to explain the differences between the figures used by the supervisors and the ones from the school division.

Allen said he thought one of the problems is that the two boards have not met to discus the school budget. He said he felt it would be beneficial to be able to explain the school budgeting process-how it works, where it has to go, and how it has to be spent.

“They haven't refused to meet with us, they just haven't responded to our requests,” he stated. “I think one of the problems here is a failure to communicate, a failure to understand one another.”

Noting his almost 12 years on the school board have helped him gain some understanding of the way the school budget process works, Allen said, “But it is confusing.”

As they talked, both Allen and Dr. Blair referenced the county administrator's use of the term “unneeded money” during the budget presentation on Monday night.

That unneeded money, explained Blair, was the result of conservative efforts to save money, which realized $700,000 that supervisors authorized the school board to use to pay bills.

Blair added, “And I am really thankful that the supervisors allowed us to carry that over to this year. But we deferred costs because we have had level funding for three years.”

The superintendent stated, “There were things that we just did not do to defray costs to the current year.” He added, “Professionally I have a lot of pride in what the whole division has done-every employee.”

Blair offered, “I do want to have the opportunity to set the record straight,” he stated. “If it wasn't so serious, if it wasn't going to cost jobs, I wouldn't do it.” He added, “But I feel I need to at least ask the questions.”

Blair advised that he tasked Assistant Superintendent Dr. James Dumminger with drafting several questions to give to the county administration. “This is not accusatory. This is to ask the questions because I don't have the answers,” he added.

Using slides from the county administrator's presentation that now included inserted highlighted figures from the school budget, Blair said the county figures show a deficit in the school funding analysis of $873,239. Conversely, the school figures indicate a deficit of $1,069,426.99.

“That is significant,” said Blair. “Why is there a difference? We are going to ask and find out.”

According to the superintendent, if the county only provides the proposed $800,000 in additional funds, the school division would lose positions. “And we don't have a lot of time to clear that up,” stated Blair, referencing the April 25 BOS meeting.

Pointing to the next slide, Blair said the county contends that for the school system to operate everything “status quo” would require $873,239 in additional funds. He countered, “Our number is $1,069,427, which does not include the $700,000 we paid in bills.” Blair added, “I want us to all understand we will lose people because there is a deficit.”

Focusing on $15.1 million budgeted for instruction, Blair explained that the revenue from social services is not included in the school division's revenue because Comprehensive Services Act funds can no longer be used to pay the salaries of personal aides. “This is a shortfall in revenue of approximately $210,000,” he stated. “Again, this is a huge difference.”

Continuing through the slides and highlighting the differences in figures, Blair repeatedly noted that the county's budget figures indicate an $873,239 deficit while the school's figures demonstrate a $1,069,427 deficit.

“If we don't get that, there will be reductions,” said Blair. “It is disconcerting and it does bother me that it is so far off.”

Reiterating the need to sit down and talk about the budget differences, Blair offered, “A school budget is so different and so convoluted that it really would help out to understand where we are going.”

Reviewing the figures again and the additional $800,000 in funding proposed by the board of supervisors, Blair offered that he was “absolutely thankful” to supervisors for those funds but the numbers they are using are different from the school's figures.

Blair explained that if the county budget is adopted as proposed, he would have to come back to the school board with reductions for them to approve. He stated, “That's just not a good thing. So I want to resolve this beforehand. I want to resolve the differences.”

Reminding that he only had a day and a-half to study the figures, Blair said he hoped the numbers he had before him were accurate and felt confident they were.

Going back over the figures, Blair, pointing to the $269,427 difference between the $800,000 and the $1,069,427, offered, “I think that is the CSA money, I really do. I think it is really difficult to piece it all together because again that was not an anticipated cut. That came in a memo from the state and the CSA director-by the way you are not getting that money anymore.”

Blair continued, “And it is probably an honest error. However, we have to resolve these or they will hit us hard after the 25th.”

The superintendent explained that the plan was to send a letter to the county asking for an explanation on the differences in the numbers.

“All I want is an answer and I hope I get it and we'll move on together in a partnership for what is good for our students,” shared Blair.

2011-12 School Calendar

Prior to a discussion on next year's calendar, the board approved its consent agenda, which included revising the payroll distribution date for April 21 to April 22 and approval of the career and technical education advisory committee for FY12 and FY13.

Four versions of the 2011-2012 calendar were proposed by the calendar committee, which included teachers, administrators, and support staff.

However, because the calendars included some half-days, the discussion quickly turned into a debate on early dismissals.

Chairman Allen asked if they could postpone voting on the calendar until next month. He said he wanted the opportunity to have some parents look at the proposals to get some feedback.

Conversely, Sherry Ragland said she thought they should move forward with the proposals that the committee presented. She noted that the calendars included fewer early dismissals than previous years. Additionally, Ragland said parents are advised of the half-day schedules not only on the calendar but also by notices sent-out by the schools.

David Christian responded, “I don't like the half-days.” He said the early dismissals placed a strain on families.

Referencing the economic crisis, Christian added that heating and cooling a school for a half-day was not cost-effective.

Allen stated that when weighing an extra three hours for a teacher to work on grades to the possibility of a five or six year-old going home alone-the child wins.

Although Ragland shared she had not received any complaints about early dismissals last year or this year, Allen said he heard complaints from probably at least 15 people.

Christian, again referencing a budgetary standpoint, stated, “If that means that we need to start using our planning periods to do these type of things we are taking half-days off to do then let's do that.” He added, “We need to figure out a way that we can save some money and this right here seems to be business as usual.”

When Ragland reminded that the calendar committee was appointed to study the issues and make recommendations, Allen asked how many school board members and parents were on that committee.

She replied that some of the members of the committee are also parents.

Acknowledging he appreciated the efforts of the committee, Christian stated, “But we don't run our schools on a committee. This school is not run by a committee. This school is run by seven people that sit on this board working in conjunction with Dr. Blair.”

Pete Gowin interjected that every teacher, all employees in the system, had an opportunity to vote for the calendar option they preferred.

“I just feel like we are overlooking the people we are supposed to be serving-which are our parents and the children. I think we are ignoring them completely,” stated Allen.

Christian added, “I agree.”

Allen shared that he wanted to talk to approximately 25 people before he would be ready to make a decision on the calendar.

Vice Chairman Ed Wise asked about the ramifications of waiting a month. Blair replied that he did not think that would be a big negative.

“Is there any way we can survey the parents?” asked Thomas Hutcherson.

Blair said they could. However he added that he felt it was important to honor the professional opinions. He explained that it was not a self-centered approach from teachers but their concern about what was best for the children and what is required of teachers.

“I do think it is not just about efficiency,” stated Blair, adding that he thought the board would be shortchanging the committee if it did not listen to the process.

“We would be glad to conduct a community survey and bring you some organized results,” offered Blair.

At that point, Christian moved to postpone action on the calendar until the next month. The motion carried with a four to three vote. Additionally, Christian requested the board be provided with an average of what it cost to open schools for a day.

Update on Elementary Renovation Projects

Ivan “Chip” Davis provided an update on the renovation projects on Route 20. He said the project was moving along and the floors at the elementary school have been replaced. “They are absolutely beautiful,” stated Davis.

According to Davis, the steel has been erected and the lower school is starting to take form. However, he noted that some demolition work was still underway.

Describing the overall progress as very positive, Davis stated, “The site work is moving along rather nicely.”

When Hutcherson asked if the project was on schedule, Davis said they were probably a couple of weeks behind but the contractors are confident they can make up that time.

Blair noted that there was a greater amount of asbestos in the building than initially anticipated. Davis added, “That has been a huge slowdown.”

In response to a question from Wise about the floors at the bus garage, Davis said they have formally expressed their displeasure with the floor in the public access area. “The finish is just not the way it should be,” he stated, adding that the floors in the shop and garage areas look very nice. Davis advised, “We've been assured it is going to be corrected.”

In Other School Board Action

Following an explanation by Dumminger on revisions to the FY11 budget, the board approved the budget changes as presented.

Dumminger advised that the division's ADM, average daily membership, which is finalized as of March 31, is 1900.53. He explained that the initial FY11 budget was based on a projected ADM of 1920 students; and, the revised budget on April 13 was based on an ADM of 1899.5. However, Dumminger said there was a change of one student when the figures were recalculated thus adding $5,387 to the April 13 figures, bringing the projected FY11 budget to $25,546,136.

After a discussion on several proposed changes, the board approved policy revisions presented at its March 9 meeting.

Prior to the vote, Christian questioned the lack of specifics in Policy GCN, Evaluation of Professional Staff.

Blair explained that a policy is a broad statement for all school divisions. In turn, the school division crafts the policy into a more specific regulation.

Moving on to Policy IGBB, Programs for Gifted Students, Christian asked what the implications would be if they decided they were not going to have a gifted program and gave the money back. “Because they are not giving us as much as it costs,” he said.

Blair said he did not think it was an option of any school division not to have a program for gifted students.

Allen agreed, “I think we would lose federal funding.”

Donna Matthews, director of academic services, added, “There is not a choice.”

The board approved the 2011-2012 Career and Technical Education Plan as presented by CTE Principal Kyle Bryan.

Concurring with the superintendent's recommendation, the board authorized the staff to apply for 21st Century Community Learning Centers grants for BCHS, BCMS, Buckingham Primary, and Gold Hill Elementary. The federal grant program supports community-based programs that provide tutoring, enrichment, and counseling during non-school hours.

Following a closed session, the board approved its personnel agenda as presented. The action included the retirement of Kathleen Harris, special education aide at BCHS; the resignations of Vickie Shepherd, secretary at Gold Hill; Carla Coffee, special education personal aide; and Cory Donnelly, part-time technology specialist.

At the conclusion of business, Chairman Allen recessed the meeting until Tuesday, May 3, at 6 p.m.