School Budget Could Increase

Published 4:05 pm Tuesday, February 11, 2014

CUMBERLAND — Cumberland County supervisors are preparing to face a million-dollar-gap in next year’s budget. Meanwhile, Cumberland Public School Superintendent Dr. Amy Griffin’s proposed school budget features a revenue increase of over half a million dollars.

But, supervisors do not have to worry. A request for increased funding from the schools will most likely not be another financial challenge to add to their already long list of worries.

On February 10, Dr. Amy Griffin, superintendent of Cumberland County Public Schools, presented her proposed budget, which featured nearly $650,000 in increased revenue from the state and a request for level funding from the County.

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During a budget work session the previous week, she told board members she thought it would be best to approach supervisors with a level-funding request, given the expected reduction in County revenue for the upcoming year.

The county’s reassessment, which was completed in 2013, marked roughly a 10.7 percent overall drop in assessed property values, according to Commissioner of the Revenue Julie A. Phillips.

Lloyd Banks, chairman of the Cumberland Board of Supervisors, confirmed the tight spot the County is in regarding their upcoming budget. The County’s two major challenges are the increased costs at Piedmont Regional Jail, expected to be over $250,000, and a roughly $700,000-reduction in revenue due to the reassessment, he explained.

“So, before we ever get started, we have a gap of about a million dollars we’re going to have to close,” he shared with the school board prior to Dr. Griffin’s budget presentation.

He pointed out that last year the County kept school funding flat. “I’m committed to keeping that funding flat and not trying to find cuts or close the gap with the school system,” he promised the board.

In light of the increased state funding, Banks said, “We’re going to try not to share that with you…That increased funding will be the school’s funding and we won’t look for ways to try to close our gap with that means.”

It seems that his report had an impact on the school board members.

During the work session last week, District Three school board member Eurika Tyree asked staff to calculate the cost of giving all custodians, cafeteria workers and bus drivers a five-percent raise.

“They need a raise. It’s time for more money for them. They’re human. They have families. They have responsibilities. They have bills just like everybody else,” she said.

Tyree did acknowledge that all full-time school staff received a two-percent raise last year, “But if I am an employee and I’m only making $10,000. My two percent that I would get is chump change to what a teacher or an administrator would make.”

At the time, Tyree had suggested the cost of the raises be added to the County’s requested funding.

According to Dr. Griffin, school staff subsequently calculated that the raises would cost the division roughly $45,000.

During Tuesday night’s meeting, Tyree said that after receiving the cost estimate from school staff and hearing from Banks regarding the County’s budget situation, she no longer wanted to pursue the raises for this year. “But, it’s not off the table. We’re going to hopefully, preferably, put it back, work it into the budget next year.”

Budget Details

Despite a 10 percent cut in federal funding, over all, the schools’ balanced budget is slated to increase by four percent, equaling a total of $14,685,426 in revenue. This is due largely to a $642,000 increase in state funding.

The reduction in federal funding was caused by the loss of the 21st Century Learning grant, which had been for $180,000.

Dr. Griffin explained that the state increase is the result of a reduction in the County’s composite index, re-benchmarking and an increase in the student population.

The local composite index is an equalization formula used by the state to determine its share of school funding. Because the County’s composite index was recently lowered, the school will receive more state funding.

The student population is projected to increase by two percent. And, that’s a conservative estimate, Dr. Griffin says.

Although the increased student population leads to increased funding, it also requires more teachers. The school budget includes the addition of five new positions, including one elementary school teacher and one Career and Technical Education (CTE) teacher for the high school.

The elementary school teacher will help keep class sizes manageable, Dr. Griffin explained. She told the board that the division had lost some funding this year because class sizes were too large in first grade.

Regarding the CTE position, Dr. Griffin pointed out that there has been increased enrollment at the high school, and every student who graduates must now also be a CTE completer. The division is considering hiring an agriculture teacher to fill the role. This could potentially lead to a Future Farmers of America program for the division as well.

The budget also includes the addition of a part-time math coach. All three schools were warned by the state last year during the accreditation process because of low student pass rates on math Standards of Learning tests. The coach would work with students from first to twelfth grade.

Finally, the budget includes two additional car drivers and increased medical costs. These costs are associated with an increase of students with disabilities that need special transportation or have special medical needs, Dr. Griffin explained Tuesday nights.

Besides the addition of staff, the budget absorbs a recent increase in how much the division must contribute to employees’ Virginia Retirement System benefits. The school will contribute roughly 25 percent more next year than it did this year. The budget also featured reductions in maintenance and unemployment insurance amounts, changes based on last year’s actual usage.

In formulating the budget, Dr. Griffin told the board that she did try to keep in mind — and be sensitive to — the local economy.

A public hearing on the budget has been scheduled for February 25 at 7 p.m. in the Middle/High School Cafetorium.

The school board is also slated to hold a joint meeting with the Cumberland Board of Supervisors on February 20 at 7 p.m. in the Old Clerk’s Office in Cumberland Court House.

The board is scheduled to vote on the budget during their March 10 meeting.