End of stimulus funding affects school budget

-A A +A

Galax City Public Schools will cut nine positions, but create seven new ones using federal funding.

By April Wright, Reporter

Galax City Public Schools is working to adapt to budget challenges, as two-year federal stimulus funding ends and enrollment is expected to decline during the next school year, resulting in a loss of state money.
Because of that, nine positions will be cut, effective June 30. The jobs being cut include one teacher and eight support staff.
The 2011-2012 proposed budget is based on an anticipated enrollment of 1,250, down from 1,270. The budget totals $12.9 million, a $21,507 increase.
On the revenue side, $970,000 comes from state sales tax revenue, a 2.63 percent increase; $5.8 million from state funds, a .77 percent increase; $1.78 million from federal funds, a 4.3 percent decrease; $4.2 million from the City of Galax, a 2.46 percent increase; $139,595 from other funds, a 12.53 percent decrease; and $56,670 from loans and investments, a 46.03 percent decrease.  
“Stimulus provided us with opportunities, but it was also a challenge,” said Rebecca Cardwell, assistant superintendent. “We tried to balance the budget and use stimulus funds in a way that would best fit the needs of our students.”
About $899,000 in stimulus funding two years ago allowed for the hiring of 10 positions. However, because schools were allotted a certain amount of time to spend that money, the funding has ended and is no longer a part of the budget.
 Despite the cuts, a reading specialist position that was created two years ago as the result of the stimulus funds is being maintained because “we saw it provided such a benefit to students,” said Schools Superintendent Bill Sturgill.
A decline in students means a decline in state funds, he noted.
“With a decrease in 20 students, we would have had to size the staff accordingly,” said Sturgill. “Stimulus funds aside, this would have meant trimming one or two positions. If we have 1,280 students next school year, we would adjust accordingly because it would generate more state funds to allow for more staff.”
Stimulus funding also helped create two new computer labs at Galax Elementary School, replace roofs at the Galax High school, renovate four bathrooms at GES and purchase one new bus. And, $130,000 was used to purchase educational materials, more than $40,000 was used for student enrichment and $20,000 was used for professional development.
The nine jobs being cut were created as the result of the stimulus funds two years ago. When these individuals were hired, they were under the understanding that these were two-year positions, said Sturgill.
However, the federal jobs bill — another stimulus package of $326,000, which is to be used for employment and salary purposes only — will create seven new positions for next school year, including three support staff, one coordinator and three full-time substitute positions. These positions will be created for one year.
“Those new positions that are being advertised, for those who have lost jobs, they will have the opportunity to seek the new positions that are being created,” said Sturgill. “In a year from now, we will have to take a look at trimming temporary positions.”
Full-time substitute positions will require a four-year degree and a teacher’s license.
“This will be an opportunity to hire young people, and watch them grow as young teachers,” said Sturgill. “It will benefit the students because we will have a fully qualified substitute at each school, and we will be a training ground for young teachers.”
The jobs bill will also fund a summer kindergarten readiness program and will add a new pre-school class, which will allow for the addition of 18 more students.
“We’re optimistic that if we add a third pre-K class and add a readiness program, it may bring in non-resident students, which would increase the enrollment and add to our state funds,” said Sturgill.
Through a $100,000 increase in funding from the City of Galax, teachers will receive a 1 percent increase in pay. Sturgill said stimulus funding was not used for the salary increase because administrators did not want to use the one-time funds for recurring costs, keeping in mind that stimulus funds are only temporary.
“With an increase from the city, it shows that the City of Galax is committed to education,” said Sturgill. “And it speaks to the system we have here. The city realizes we need to give educators a raise to keep the quality educators that we have.”
Sturgill said the schools have managed and used funds to best serve the students. Every budget is tough because it sets the priorities of a school system, he added.
“We’re very student-oriented in creating new programs,” he said. “With the stimulus funds, we have gained so much, and so much opportunity.”