Grayson budget adjustment spares some teachers

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By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

INDEPENDENCE — Amendments to the 2010-11 Grayson education budget include the school system continuing to cover 100 percent of employees’ Virginia Retirement System contributions and the reinstatement of seven teaching positions.

School board members held a special called meeting Monday night to make adjustments to the previously approved budget.

The original version of the budget was based on former Gov. Tim Kaine’s numbers. Once the General Assembly approved the state’s biennium budget, adjustments were needed to the local spending plan.

The earlier approved budget included requiring all employees to pay 3 percent of their VRS and included a reduction of more than 56 positions.

Though the school system will still see a drastic reduction in personnel, 16.5 positions will be absorbed through attrition and alternate funding.

In total, 20.5 full-time and part-time staff will be lost in the approved budget.

Schools Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Thomas explained that the positions and VRS contributions were added back after the General Assembly reduced VRS rates drastically.

Thomas said the news was “mixed” — seven additional teaching positions will be saved, but a large amount would still be reduced.

In total, the school system was able to add $600,000 back to its 2010-11 budget.

The 3 percent VRS contribution cost about $300,000, while the additional positions — as well as replacing some coaching supplements — made up the additional money.

Finance Director Julie Bear also called the news a “mixed blessing.”

Because the General Assembly cut the rates on VRS so drastically, it simply means VRS eventually will need to make that money up. In other words, rates will be low this year and next, but over the next 10 years rates are likely to increase as VRS attempts to make up lost money.

The approved budget includes a request of $4.1 million from Grayson County — which is the minimum funding required to draw down state funds.

School Board Vice Chairman Shannon Holdaway made note that the school board is asking for roughly $830,000 less from the county than it received in 2007-08.

Though the money may be significantly less, the county has seen a large loss of enrollment in recent years. Thomas has told the board in the past that the school system averages a loss of 10 students per month.

Bear told The Gazette on Wednesday that the 2007-2008 budget was built on 2,105 students. "However, the amount of the minimum required for that year was $4.44 million and we received $4.89 million," not including debt service.

That amount above the minimum, $449,111, was unspent money from the 2006-2007 budget that the board of supervisors allowed the school system to carry over, Bear explained.

The 2010-2011 budget is built on 1,866 students.

Holdaway said that, while some positions were saved with the additional funding, the school system was still required to cut $2.697 million from its budget.

Board members then made it clear that the alternate list of cuts proposed would not be happening. Those included things such as combining Baywood and Fairview Elementaries and eliminating grades 8-12 at Grayson Highlands School.

“We still need more money from the county,” said Board Member Gary Burris.

Thomas added that, while minimum funding was put into the approved budget, there were several additional items the school system needed. She recommended board members ask for additional funding.

She noted that most surrounding school systems — and the “vast majority” of school systems in Virginia — receive more than the minimum funding. In these times, while the state is cutting funding, additional money from the locality is greatly needed.

“Education is crucial,” she said, noting that the school system is the largest employer in the county.

Essential requests for above minimum funding included:

• reinstate five school days — $302,924.

• five additional busses — $375,000.

• one instructional technology resource

teacher — $51,178.17.

• two elementary art teachers — $83,158.64.

• two instructional aide

positions — $27,737.12.

• roof replacement GCHS — $60,000.

The total request amounted to $899,997.93.

Thomas asked Transportation Supervisor Dennis Roop to provide some information on the county’s bus fleet.

Roop explained that the state now recommends busses be replaced after 15 years of service instead of 12 years. The school system has nine buses age 15 years and older and six buses 13-14 years old.

Director of Instruction Stephen Cornett explained the need for the additional positions.

With the current proposal, the loss of two elementary art teachers would essentially eliminate the program. “We are known across the Commonwealth for our fine arts here in Grayson County,” he said, noting that if funding were provided, that tradition could continue.

Maintenance Supervisor Roy Anders also spoke about the high school roof. The roof was installed more than 30 years ago — using 20-year shingles.

Shingles are often found in the parking lot of the school, and Anders said the plan would be to replace the shingle roof with a metal one.

With no further comments, Burris motioned to approve the amended budget. It was seconded by Holdaway and passed unanimously.