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HILLSVILLE — Instead of closing a Carroll school or laying off 40 employees, educators will ask for help from the county supervisors to make up their projected $2 million shortfall for fiscal year 2013.
Squeezed by proposals that will drive up expenses for retirement and insurance and state funding cuts estimated at $600,000, Carroll County Public Schools officials have a list of “drastic” and potentially “devastating” cuts if they don’t get some financial help.
While nobody in the school system desires these cuts, some painful measures may become inevitable without more funding support, according to discussion in a schools’ budget committee meeting last Thursday.
Schools Superintendent Greg Smith said the big question is "what if the General Assembly doesn’t provide us the revenue to cover the gap in the budget?
"What if the locality doesn’t assist us in bridging the gap in the budget? What if we have to work within the same budget that we have right now with no increase in revenue? What might the school system consider? This is a list of those thoughts."
In developing the projections for fiscal year 2013, school officials looked at the proposed budgets from the House of Delegates, the Virginia Senate and the governor’s office and assumed the schools would get the same local contribution of $8.93 million from Carroll.
The school system doesn’t expect to have any carryover funds from this year and the federal money from stimulus funds are gone.
After those considerations, the revenue is projected at $37.33 million — about $602,000 lower than in the current year.
The expenses are estimated at $39.41 million, $1.48 million higher than the current year for a total shortfall of a little less than $2.1 million.
Included in the list of potential cuts are 40 current teacher positions. Benefits and salary for a new teacher amount to about $48,613. Teachers laid off would be selected from those with the least experience.
“Forty teachers would not get us to the $2 million [deficit]... but that would completely devastate this school system...” Smith said.
The schools have been meeting budgets in recent years by not refilling more than 50 vacated positions.
Further cutting personnel would mean that there wouldn’t be people to continue to run the variety of educational programs the schools have now, Smith said.
“I don’t know how you would do that,” the superintendent said.
Another idea involves the potential closing of Gladesboro, Carroll’s smallest school, and letting go five teachers, a secretary, the principal and two custodians, for a savings of $529,000.
“That’s a drastic movement by the board. That’s a drastic recommendation, but that is one that we need to consider,” Smith said.
Other potential savings and cuts include:
• activity buses, $14,000
• middle school sports, $7,000
• trimming bus routes by four, $72,000
• JROTC, $83,000
• two instructional aides, $58,900
• two vocational positions, $98,000
• loss of two positions from alternative education, $100,000
• five positions in elementary art, music and physical education, $250,000
• two positions in the secondary schools, $100,000
• a central office position, $103,894
• reducing health insurance benefits, $183,000
• group life (employee portion), $140,000
• locally funded reading coach, $53,000
• reducing maintenance staff, $34,000
• school farm agriculture position, $56,000
• psychology counselor position, $55,000
• secondary assistant principal, $73,000
• math coach, $50,000
• data aide, $32,600
• changing bus drivers from full-time to part-time status, $300,000 to $500,000.
“Those are all drastic recommendations, those are all things that we do not want to consider,” Smith noted.
How could the schools maintain small class sizes with some of those potential cuts, School Board Chairman Brian Spencer asked.
Class sizes for grades K-5 would remain at 24, Smith answered. In secondary grades, core classes of English, math, social studies and science class sizes wouldn’t be targeted for expansion, so educators would have to look at what remains, or everything outside of the requirements.
In the past, before the attrition started and the 50 positions were not filled, the school system had some “programmatic flexibility,” so the curricula could remain in place. Smith said that flexibility is not there anymore.
“So any reductions or any vacancies we do not fill from this time forward truly has a measurable impact on the instructional program and how this school system functions,” Smith said.
Closing Gladesboro would require changing the attendance zones, Smith said, responding to questions. That would be “extremely difficult” and “extremely disruptive” for the school system.
“Really, as superintendent, every single one of these are distasteful, but I offer these as ... possibilities now that we know the state of Virginia is not going to fund us and close the budget gap,” Smith said. “If the locality doesn’t assist us in this, these are the possible cuts that we would have to face.”
Pointing to Carroll’s financial audit for fiscal year 2011, Smith indicated he believes that the county has the resources to assist the school system.
The balance under general county funds amounts to $16.3 million, according to the audit by Robinson Farmer Cox.
“That would lead me to believe there is some flexibility there,” Smith said, “that the board of supervisors can, and I hope will, consider assisting us through this very, very challenging time.”
While most county departments have grown in expense by double digits over the last 10 years, the school system has been held to a 2 percent increase, according to the audit, Smith said.
In the figures for county administration, the budget has gone from $1.16 million in 2002-2003 to $2.3 million in 2010-2011, for example. During the same period, education expenses have gone from $8.16 million to $8.3 million.
That $8.3 million is down from a high of $10.3 million for education in 2007-2008 fiscal year, the audit shows.
“I think, as this financial crisis has continued for much longer than any of us fathomed, this school system needs assistance,” Smith said. “It would be my recommendation to this committee that we recommend to the school board we ask for the $2 million” from the county.
“Which is substantially less than what we’ve operated on in the past,” School Board Member Reginald Gardner said. “[It’s] still the minimum of that we need to have and if that’s not made available and then we need to look at these other options.”
Spencer doesn’t want to see Gladesboro School close, he said. Without knowing the local commitment for the school budget, he said it’s not yet time to decide what actions that the school system should take.