Level Funding May Equal Cuts

Published 4:21 pm Tuesday, March 26, 2013

CUMBERLAND – The Cumberland School Board voted unanimously to approve the superintendent's proposed budget, without revision, during their March 11 meeting.

The school budget is based upon an increase of $337,421.89 in contribution from the County. However, the current proposed County budget which has been published for public hearing on April 2, includes only funding the schools the same amount as this current fiscal year, a total of $3,924,419.

County Administrator and Attorney Vivian Giles told The Herald that her goal in crafting the proposed budget was to not increase County debt, not use County reserve funds and provide level funding for the schools and library.

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According to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Amy Griffin, although level funding may sound like everything will stay the same at the schools, it will instead translate into cuts in staff.

The approved school budget includes increases in the areas of staff pay, a new position and health insurance costs equaling over $460,000.

The two percent pay increase for all full-time employees, costing $172,533, and a step increase based on salary scales for those who are eligible, costing $169,150, make up the bulk of the increased expense.

The budget also includes an estimated increase in health insurance of $63,200. Dr. Griffin told the board of supervisors during a joint work session that more employees went on the health plan last year, resulting in this increased expense.

The hiring of a reading specialist, which is mandated by the state according to Dr. Griffin, is estimated to cost $62,200.

The budget also reflects almost a $110,000 decrease in federal funding due to the end of a grant for 21st Century at the middle school, Dr. Griffin told the board of supervisors.

Dr. Griffin explained to The Herald that if the County does not increase its funding to at least cover the monies needed for the reading specialist and increased health insurance costs, then the school system would have to absorb that into its budget by making cuts elsewhere.

Additionally, the school will receive $78,000 less in state monies if the County does not match its portion of the governor's proposed two percent raise for some teachers, Dr. Griffin reported.

The need to absorb the $125,000 for the specialist and health insurance and the cut in state funding would lead to a $200,000 shortfall in the current budget.

Dr. Griffin says that if the school system does not receive any increase in funding, those costs would have to be absorbed somewhere. Cutting staff? “That's where I'd have to go,” she said.

After her presentation of the draft budget to school board members in January, Dr. Griffin informed board members, “we're running with the minimum amount of the staff that you can and still operate.”

Listing a number of requirements high school students now must meet to graduate, she said, “I don't have anyone else at the high school that I feel like we could cut…and still operate.”

During the same January work session, Dr. Griffin announced that $110,000 in cuts were made to the working budget, so that the school board wouldn't have to request a full additional half a million dollars from the board as it originally expected.

According to the budget proposal, this was accomplished by cutting the utilities budget by $60,000 and the budget for technology equipment by $50,000.

Teacher Raises

With level funding, providing raises for teachers is not likely, Dr. Griffin told The Herald.

During a joint work session, Dr. Griffin reminded the board of supervisors that staff took a five percent pay cut in 2010.

Last year was the first year that the school system was unable to provide step increases for employees, Dr. Griffin said, adding that in the past “we've always been able to hang on to that, until last year.”

Step increases are a system of pay raises based on the number of years experience a staff member has obtained. In the approved school budget, those increases would occur at the 5th, 9th and 15th year of employment for most staff members.

Dr. Griffin stated that, if funded, the budget will give step increases this year to those who were supposed to have gotten it last year.

In the approved budget, the superintendents and board's pay are not slated to increase.

Public Comment

In preparation for their vote on the budget, the school board held a budget workshop on January 28, a joint budget work session with the board of supervisors on February 14 and a public hearing on February 25.

Cumberland Education Association President Margaret Korrow addressed the board during a period designated for public input on the school budget at their December meeting.

“All school personnel recognize that money will be tight. However, we respectfully request the school begin the process of raising salaries so that staff can begin to get closer to where we were before this economic downslide,” she told the board. She concluded by stating, “if reductions in staff and the budget carry on as they have over the last few budget cycles, we will continue to lose valuable personnel.”

Korrow later confirmed to The Herald that “the superintendent and the Cumberland Education Association are all on the same page.”

Judy Chambliss, an eighth grade science teacher for Cumberland Middle School, spoke during the public hearing on the school budget, continuing Korrow's message. She began, “I just think it's important for the public to understand that so much of what is included in this budget is not anything that is required by us. It is required by the state…

“Do I want a pay raise? Yes, I want a pay raise. I take home less now than I did five years ago and, yet, my duties have increased and my responsibilities have increased.

“But, even over and above that, if I don't get a pay increase. Well, that's the way it goes. I'll still stay here because this is where I want to be. This is where I am committed to… I will stay here, at least for the time being.

“We have lost an awful lot of very good staff members because of these budget issues. And we will continue to do that. And I don't know how much longer that teachers like me – and I like to think I'm a very good teacher – will stay here, because of these issues.”

And, these two speakers may indeed be right that they are in agreement with the school board.

Chairman of the school board Ginger Sanderson, District One, reiterated Korrow's concern during the following month's board meeting, stating, “we are almost at bare bones and we are asking people to do so much, more than they've ever been asked to do and now, because we haven't been able to give raises for so long for… five years…. There comes a point where people are going to start to find other avenues of work. And we have some phenomenal people that we don't want to have seeking other opportunities.”

Before the voting to approve the superintendent's budget, school board member Dr. Christine Ross, District Five, stated, “I appreciate that Dr. Griffin and the administration and the principals have worked so hard to come forward with a reasonable budget that expresses what the school needs for bare minimum.”

George Dowdy, District Four, also spoke before the vote, “We've cut. We've cut. We're at bone. We can't cut anymore.”

During board member comments, Dr. Ross reiterated her hope that people would come out to support the school budget, “we're already hearing rumors that rather than wanting to fund the budget that was requested, they want to fund a little bit over $300,000 less than what we need. And, and we just can't keep doing this. I understand the budgets are tight, but we can't starve our children to save the County.”

The board of supervisors is currently scheduled to vote on the County budget during their April meeting. A public hearing for the budget is currently set for April 2 at 7 p.m., in the Cumberland Courthouse Circuit Courtroom.