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HILLSVILLE — Just when the Carroll school system’s funding shortfall seemed to be resolved with the approval of about $1.8 million in new funding from the locality Monday, a county supervisor continued to question where that money will come from.
In the end, not getting the specific details he wanted from his fellow supervisors, Joshua Hendrick, the Laurel Fork representative on the county board, voted “no” on the school budget.
“I guess we’re ready to take hopefully the final look at this proposed school budget with the changes that you’ve made,” Chairman Sam Dickson said to start the meeting.
“It is a pleasure to wind this process down,” Schools Superintendent Greg Smith began, as he detailed the trimming that educators will do to make the school system’s operational budget fit the money provided by the state and local governments.
The schools budget discussion over the past few weeks has contained many dramatic moments, as citizens commented on a list of possible cuts under consideration if Carroll County officials didn’t find a way to close the nearly $2 million funding gap left by the state.
Those ideas included closing Gladesboro school, laying off 40 teachers and options to cut programs like JROTC.
The supervisors at their April meeting pledged about $1.8 million in new funding to fill that gap.
Smith noted the county had agreed to provide $10.83 million of the school system’s original request of $11.3 million, a difference of about $478,000.
Educators have reconciled that by adding two new revenue line items — “assistance with teacher retirement rates” at $122,397 and a non-recurring educational assistance line of $165,733, the superintendent said.
The school system will not fill several vacancies, including a custodian, three full-time equivalent secondary teacher positions, two librarians, a teacher aide and a guidance counselor. Smith said the school system will cut two bus routes and eliminate the energy and crisis coordinator position.
These measures would allow the schools to balance the budget at about $39.42 million.
State budget numbers came out April 19, and school officials have realized that the state has not provided as much as they had expected previously, leaving a shortage of $146,270.
“I believe we can reconcile this, but we are going to need some assistance from you,” Smith told the supervisors. “We can work within this, I believe, if we continue to seek savings, but the board respectfully requests from the board of supervisors that to assist us with that we be funded through a lump sum funding as opposed to the categorical funding, which does limit some flexibility.”
Tammy Quesenberry, schools finance manager, noted that the educators had anticipated another $288,000 coming from the state.
The funding that did come through is the assistance to pay the increased Virginia Retirement System rates, but the non-recurring assistance did not materialize, she said.
That had been in an earlier version of the General Assembly budget, but that did not come through, Smith said.
Supervisor David Hutchins indicated he didn’t think that the categorical funding would interfere with the school systems ability to meet its budget.
“Even though we do categorical funding, that doesn’t prevent you to come back and ask for a readjustment of those, does it?” Hutchins asked.
“No, it does not,” Smith agreed.
Hutchins wondered where the flexibility would come from if the county funded the schools with a lump sum.
Smith said the flexibility would allow the schools to draw quickly from various categories to bridge the additional shortfall.
But Hutchins repeated that the schools could come back to the supervisors and make requests for adjustments. The supervisors do that with the sheriff’s department and other departments now.
In response to questions about personnel changes, Smith said the person in the energy and crisis coordinator position will likely be reassigned.
“By the way, I know that guy that does that,” Supervisor Bob Martin. “And I would point out that he asked for a transfer back to a school situation way before we ever got into the budget stuff.”
Dickson asked about 16 principals and assistant principal at the 10 schools to see if all those positions would be retained.
School officials don’t see any reduction to administrators in the schools.
After a few more questions for Smith, Hendrick questioned his fellow county officials. “What was the details involved with the $1.8 [million] pledge [to the schools],” the Laurel Fork supervisor asked. “I still have not received any information from the budget committee or the administration in regards to the draft budget or the $1.8 details, which I think this school budget hinges on.”
That information is critical to the budget at this point, he added.
Supervisor and budget committee member Phil McCraw said the county plans to pay some expenses in next year’s budget down early. “We’ve had a little better revenues this time, and we’re going to try to take some those revenues and pay some things down and free up some money for next year’s budget.”
“Has there been $1.8 in additional revenue?” Hendrick asked.
Dickson said staff members are still working on the budget draft and supervisors haven’t gotten the draft yet. He offered to delay action, if Hendrick wanted to.
Hendrick answered he would feel more comfortable with a delay, because he hasn’t seen any information from the county about where the additional money will come from.
Dickson asked staff members if they felt comfortable that the county can afford what’s been pledged, and they responded yes.
Martin felt he had a topic that no one wanted to talk about. He noted that most of the population growth is happening around U.S. 58 in the western part of the county, leading to a need for more space for greater numbers of students.
He encouraged county officials to think about what they may do to address that in the future. He feels like the solution will hinge on the current Woodlawn school property.
Supervisors took a brief recess and returned to approve the operations, construction, food service and textbook budgets for fiscal year 2013 for the schools, all on motions by Hutchins and seconds by Supervisor Tom Littrell.
Hendrick stressed his “no” vote wasn’t a vote against the school budget, but because he hasn’t been supplied details on the $1.8 million in new funding for the schools.
Before voting, Martin and Dickson both declared their interests in the school budgets because they are employees of the school system.
On the operational budget, Martin said he could vote conscientiously, and he voted yes. Dickson abstained because he is a school bus driver.
The school operational budget was approved with four “yes” votes, one “no” and one abstention.