Joint Meeting In Cumberland

Published 2:36 pm Tuesday, September 20, 2011

CUMBERLAND – Leaders from the County and Cumberland's school system sat down together on Thursday evening to continue consolidation talks.

These joint meetings have become a yearly occurrence and have led to cost-savings within the overall Cumberland County budget. At this particular joint meeting, the Cumberland Board of Supervisors, along with administration representatives and the Cumberland School Board, flanked by the Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent of Finances and Operations, discussed the possibility of merging Cumberland's emergency instant alert system with the school division's system.

“We can check,” offered Superintendent Dr. Amy Griffin during the joint meeting last week. “As long as you are willing to pay for that and it's cheaper than what you are doing for CodeRed.”

“We can look into it at least,” added Supervisor Elbert Womack, District Four, about the possibility of combining the alert systems as a cost-savings.

Cumberland has utilized its alert system 17 times since its start-up, which was two and a half years ago for countywide alerts-and all of those alerts have been for weather related announcements.

The school's instant alert costs $3,000 annually and for the County to continue with its CodeRed alert system, it would cost approximately $10,000, according to the joint discussion.

The CodeRed alert system was originally started and funded through a grant obtained by the County and now that those grant funds are coming to an end the Supervisors are looking for a cheaper option.

“No matter what system we look at we need to look at somehow maintaining the school's information and what you need because it's different because not every home needs to hear that school is two hours late today but there is every home that might need to hear that there is a tornado coming,” offered School Board member Ginger Sanderson.

Within the school's current alert system, there is the ability to set up groups but the alerts are not “automatically sent out,” according to Assistant Superintendent Chip Jones, such as those that would be sent by the National Weather Service-but that could be an option.

This joint meeting was just a jumping off block for the instant alert system discussion, both Boards decided for representatives from the County to meet with the school and the current provider to see if its instant alert system would meet its needs before continuing on with the search process before a decision is made about Cumberland's instant alert system.

Consolidation Work

As a review, Board of Supervisors Chairman Van Petty, District Three, first asked for an update on the status of the current consolidation efforts.

The County is currently working with the school system on consolidation in the areas of vehicle maintenance at the bus shop, fuel purchase, the maintenance department, AS 400 (an ongoing merge of the financial systems for both the school and the County), health insurance, working together with the youth league, and after school child care.

Maintenance was combined four years ago, noted Dr. Griffin.

“I think that is going really well,” she said. “That is going well from the school system's side.”

Jones also noted that the process goes well.

“I think it goes well…,” he said. “We have a good relationship with that. It's good.”

With the vehicle maintenance, Dr. Griffin noted that there were a few glitches with this process in the middle of the summer this year when the school system lost a mechanic employee but since the filling of that position the flow of the bus shop has been resolved.

“The bus shop has worked real well with our maintenance department,” explained Jill Matthews, Cumberland's assistance county administrator of finance and human resources. “The only time we've had an issue is with our Sheriff's Department. Sometimes when they have two minutes they swing in and don't have an appointment, they can't be taken care of…”

In regards to the financial system, AS 400, the school's operating system is ahead of what is being used by the County, according to the discussion.

“To date, I'm unaware of any problems we've had but we still have two more stages to go…,” noted Aaron Hickman, IT Director, about the most recent consolidation.

The two are both running the system and the replacement that the County would have had to make to upgrade its system would have cost approximately $80,000.

“I'm looking at about two or more years where we can both use the combined effort,” said Hickman. “And then we will have to get off and get another box but it's the best way to save money.”

These are the main areas of consolidation, but the County and school also work together on ideas such as the school system offering after school child care to the County's employees this year.

“With the youth league, we provide buses when the kids go to another county and Keith (White) mans our aerobic and fitness room…,” said Dr. Griffin about the coordination of volunteers that are lined up to oversee the room during its hours of operation. “All of those things, I think, are going well.”

School Board member Doris Seal then asked the Supervisors to promote the school system's aerobic and fitness room that is open to the Cumberland community.

“The fuel purchasing is going well,” noted Jones about that coordinated effort between the County and the school. “I haven't heard any issues with that and then we send the bill to the County and its paid. That works well.”

Ms. Matthews echoed,” That does work well.”

Dr. Griffin then took time to explain to the Supervisors about vacancies within the school division and how the decision is made to fill those positions.

“If there has ever been a position that someone has left from,” she said, “and if we didn't feel like it was a necessity to fill that position we wouldn't. You all might not be aware of all the people that have left and that we haven't replaced their positions.”

She then went on to explain five administrative positions that are vacant within the system and how they have been left unfilled-these are on top of the 31 positions that were cut two years ago as a result of budget cuts.

“If it's anytime that someone leaves and we think we can keep going without everything falling apart we don't replace that position,” she said. “I just wanted to tell you all that face to face. We are doing everything we can but if there is a vacancy that we truly think we need yes we go ahead and fill it… We know times are tight…”

Technology

Since Chris Hartley, the school system's new network administrator and IT supervisor, used to work with the County, County Administrator Judy Ownby suggested that the two technology heads continue working together in the future.

“I wonder if it is a possibility that Aaron and Chris get together and meet on occasion to work together to see if there are ways we can save money, school or County-the two IT departments,” said Ms. Ownby. “We've got two pretty smart people here…”

Dr. Griffin said, “Of course, since the two already know each other they can get together and come up with ways to help each other, and support each other, and save money…We are all for that…”