School Meets With County

Published 3:42 pm Tuesday, February 21, 2012

CUMBERLAND – The County's Board of Supervisors sat down last week with the ad-ministration team from Cumber-land County Public Schools and Cumberland's School Board to discuss the school division's pro-posed 2012-2013 fiscal year budget deficit.

The Supervisors are currently knee-deep in the overall budget process, planning and suggesting budget cuts to County administration, in order to create a balanced budget without tapping into re-serves.

The school division's Superintendent, Dr. Amy Griffin, detailed during the joint work session in the Middle School Media Center last Thursday the ins-and-outs of the requested County funding increase.

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According to Dr. Griffin, the extra funding request from the County would cover the increased budget line item from the state for the anticipated VRS (Virginia Retirement System) rate increase.

The school is asking for approximately $485,000, she said, more than it did last year from the County in order to close a portion of the $1,078,866 budget shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year.

School Budget Outlook

According to Dr. Griffin's original budget, the school is pro-posing to operate with a budget total of $14,253,627.78 next year, which is based on a decreased enrollment number of 1,360.

In order to make up for the pro-posed decrease in state and federal funds, Dr. Griffin suggested to the Supervisors from her Superintendent's budget, which isn't adopted by the School Board until next month, the elimination of several programs and positions within the school division as a cost-savings.

There is $282,816 less in state funding, a $485,000 increase due to the VRS/Group Life/Benefits rate increase, the loss of federal JOBS money in the amount of $247,000, and an increase in health insurance for participants proposed to total $64,050, ac-cording to Dr. Griffin.

The funding gap would be closed by eliminating Cortez math and history labs, Act!Earth, a bus purchase, the New Beginnings elective teaching position, one special education teacher, one secondary librarian, existing benefits from not replacing the Coordinator of Custodians, a part-time transition specialist (previously funded by JOBS), reducing the Senior Project stipend, and one special education master teacher stipend, according to Dr. Griffin's budget presentation.

With the VRS request included, the school is requesting that the Board of Supervisors approve $3,972,418.81 in local funding for the 2012-2013 budget.

However, the Supervisors were presented with a draft budget proposal from Cumberland's Assistant County Administrator, Jill Matthews, for the new fiscal year that included a number that was less than what the school is re-questing.

The Board is already working with a budget appropriation to the school of $3,872,418.81, according to information presented during a budget work session the Board held with the County administration earlier this month.

School Board member Dr. Christine Ross asked Dr. Griffin to detail during the joint meeting the number of career and technical courses that have been lost since the larger budget cuts were made in 2009.

“We used to have French and we used to have AVID,” said Dr. Griffin to the Supervisors. “That helped support our students to pre-pare for college. We used to have a chorus and a band teacher and now we have a person that does both…teachers for tomorrow and culinary arts used to be a fuller program.”

School Board Chair Ginger Sanderson added, “I think that is also at the Central Office staff level. It's who goes to what meeting. So many people wear so many hats…”

Dr. Griffin also explained to the Board last week how the ad-ministration had just made a cost-savings move by transferring all Athletic Director duties to the Coordinator of Transportation.

A Contingency Plan?

“The proposed budget that you've put together,” asked Supervisor Lloyd Banks, District Two, “is that based on $485,000 in local funding?”

At that point in the joint work session, Dr. Griffin, again, noted that her proposed budget is based on requesting an extra $485,000 in local funding from what was approved last year for the school system.

“Can you give us some perspective as to what would be the result if, say, you got 75 percent of that funding, 50 percent of that funding, 25 percent of that funding,” continued Banks. “Or none of that funding.”

“Can we say, catastrophic, catastrophic, catastrophic, catastrophic,” responded Dr. Ross.

Dr. Griffin subsequently noted that she was asked to bring a “contingency plan” to the joint meeting between the two Boards.

“I have it in writing for myself but what we'd have to cut would be so severe and I haven't in-formed these people because I don't want to upset people if I don't have to because I'm hoping you all are going to be able to find $485,000,” suggested Dr. Griffin about the plan.

Later, the Superintendent generally went over her outline of a “contingency plan” that would be used if the school division were not to receive the requested funding from the County to assist with the budget deficit.

“If we didn't get a portion of the $485,000, I'd ask the Board to change my contract-to change my salary not out of my salary but out of my annuity-which would amount to about $5,000 because I believe…if things are going to change this dramatically they have to change at the top. We would, without saying the actually position names, reduce two support staff. They are not paraprofessionals, custodians, or bus drivers. They are support staff at a higher salary-cut those positions.”

Dr. Griffin also noted that the administration would look at making the High School and the Middle School one school.

“I have a call in to the state department because I want them to assure me that if I do that I will not lose state funding…,” she told the Supervisors.

“The restructuring of the complex would be one principal, two assistant principals,” she added. “I know that sounds like it could work but in today's world of more rigorous instruction and then we have all the safety. Our population is a slice of society…Everything society deals with we deal with it in this population. We do a very good job of that. We have a safe and secure environment but my worry is that if you take out some of that support, will these few people be able to do this and be successful?”

With the “contingency plan's” shift in the schools, Dr. Griffin explained, there would also be a teacher eliminated.

“We would also eliminate senior projects, which would lower our expectations for students,” she continued. “This is my proposal. They (School Board) still adopt a budget in March. We've searched and searched through the budget but this is me talking. We would reduce several of the positions that are 12-month to 11 and four teachers. That would raise class sizes and we would not be able to have CTE (career and technical education) completers,” continued the Superintendent.

With all of these reductions and eliminations, Dr. Griffin added, it would only get the school to a total of $439,000 and $485,000 is needed to fill the VRS rate increase.

“I'd still need $50,000,” she told the Supervisors.

“I'm totally against both of these,” she added about two other options. “I've said it in the Board work session and that's cutting athletics, which is $145,000…”

And the second option would be going to a four-day school week.

“These things have also not been discussed or approved by the Board,” suggested Ms. Sanderson while Dr. Griffin was out-lining her “contingency plan.” “We haven't sat down and had a work session over these cuts either.”

According to the School Board, the four-day school week could save approximately $239,000 but it would create a different problem in the community related to students being off from school on Fridays.

“Personally, I would not approve that,” added Dr. Ross as she explained to the Supervisors about the last cost-analysis done on the topic.

“Mr. (Bill) Osl, in your area (Cartersville), I want to say that you already have kids getting on the bus at 5:50 in the morning,” she said. “As soon as we saw that…I said don't look at that anymore because we'd be putting kids on the bus at four in the morning.”

At that point, Supervisor Banks asked to “weigh in” on the data presented.

“I would hope that nothing's totally off the table,” he said. “We have to make decisions for the county. The taxpayers have said that they don't want to see taxes raised and when I asked this question I want to have the im-pact if we cut schools…”

The Boards Talk

“We've had heated conversations in the past over us wanting things and the Board saying the money isn't there or we're going to have to raise taxes,” offered Dr. Ross about the current situation the Boards are facing and the four-day school week option. “We're all keenly aware that we're in a different realm right now. We know that you all are strapped. We agree that we are all taxpayers here. I can't afford for my taxes to go up. So, as a citizen as well as a Board member, this is very critical across the board…Even with what we have now, those kids at that far reaches of the county get on at absolute insane hours on a normal day.”

Ms. Sanderson also noted how the Boards have worked in the past to consolidate in areas to save money for both the school division and the County.

“We are trying to be partners in this,” she said. “…Have the cuts been similar in the govern-ment side as it's been in the school side? I'm just curious.”

“Is every department bringing you a contingency plan like the school system is?” added Dr. Griffin to the Supervisors.

Supervisor Bill Osl, District One, then went through several consolidations that had been done between the County and the school staff.

“We know because we worked through it we got a reduction in total…,” he said. “I'm just going back and saying over time. When you start doing year-over-year comparisons you start getting in the weeds on some of these things…”

The Next Steps

Later in the meeting, Supervisor Osl asked, “If there were some additional funds that came out for VRS funding that would be good because that would help offset some of that $485,000?”

“Yes,” responded the school administration and School Board at the same time.

“And some of the request on us would decrease,” added Osl when asking about the final state budget that would come out of the General Assembly.

“If it comes out delineated to other line items it would be a problem because it doesn't help offset the $485,000,” he continued.

According to Dr. Griffin, the School Board agrees with the first cuts proposed in the original budget she's presented but those identified in the “contingency plan” have not been discussed as a whole body.

“Although the finance and I have researched and developed the following contingency plan in the event that we do not receive the requested additional amount of $485,000 I do want to go on record that the following plan would adversely affect the effectiveness and efficiency of Cumberland County Public Schools. The plan would negatively affect academic, physical and social growth of our students and the service that we've been able to offer our students and the community of Cumberland,” suggested Dr. Griffin. “…We're just working on bare bones now and if you take anything else away there is only so much you can do and serve everyone.”

The School Board is scheduled to hold a public hearing on its original proposed budget on February 27 and then the School Board will officially adopt its budget proposal and send it to the Board of Supervisors for consideration on March 12, according to Dr. Griffin.

The Supervisors will hold a public hearing on the entire budget on April 5 and then it will be considered for adoption on April 12, according to County Administrator Judy Ownby.

“I said this probably two years ago and again last year,” offered Supervisor Osl. “I won't agree with any more cuts that negatively impact our ability to pro-vide a good education for our students. When we reach the point that we are cutting pro-grams and services, I won't sup-port it. I disagree with that. I think we have to hold on to as much as we possibly can. In the past, I supported the tax increase and almost all of it went for the school and there are people on the Board now that would oppose that.”

Supervisor Banks interjected, “I oppose tax increases and I hope the whole county knows it.”

Osl continued, “I oppose them too but when we get into a between a rock situation when man-dates keep getting pushed down on us and we can't get any more from our citizens in property taxes something has to give…but I sure don't like taking anything away from our ability to educate our students.”