Grayson cuts 5 positions to balance budget

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School system will ask county for $50,000 above the minimum funding to keep a principal position

By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

INDEPENDENCE – Citing additional cuts in state and federal funding, the Grayson County School Board has proposed reducing 5 positions from its current workforce to balance the 2012-13 budget.
The school division’s Director of Finance Julie Bear brought additional information for the board to consider to its regular meeting Monday night.
Bear said it would cost $136,300 to give all contracted employees a 1 percent increase in pay. The proposed budget does not include that amount, but it did include asking the county’s supervisors for $50,000 above minimum funding to keep a principal position at all schools.
Previously, educators had discussed cutting one principal position and splitting time between two schools, in an effort to make up the funding gap.
As presented, Bear said the budget would total just short of $21.2 million.
Board Member Misty Cassell motioned to approve the budget and Vice Chairman Shannon Holdaway seconded it.
When taken to discussion, Holdaway asked Bear to quickly go over where the $392,000 shortfall had been reduced. During the initial budget meeting, the board found that the school system would be nearly $400,000 short in its revenue.
Bear said some money was cut from travel and purchased services, insurance premiums and the budgeted amount for potential sick, personal and annual leave.
Larger amounts were taken out by reducing one bus driver position, one teacher and three aide positions.
Additionally, the budget would do away with running the county’s activity bus in the evenings and reduce some materials and supplies money from the secondary instructional administration line items.
“If we approve this budget, we’re not losing any principals,” Board Member Gary Burris questioned.
Chairman Hobert Bailey answered that if the supervisors did not provide $50,000 above the minimum funding than the board would have to cut that amount somewhere — whether it was a principal would be determined at that time.
Holdaway questioned the teaching position that would be eliminated.
Steven Cornett, the school system’s director of instruction and assessment, said it would be eliminated at Independence Elementary School and would be done through attrition.
Currently, a grade level has three teachers and next year it would only have two — meaning classroom sizes would increase to around 21 students as opposed to 14 this year.
Holdaway then asked about the aide positions.
Cornett said two of the positions were special education aides and the students would be moving into other areas where the aides would not be needed.
The other aide position, he continued, would be cut. That was the final aide position in the county.
Cornett said it wasn’t that the aide positions were not needed, but that through cuts they were simply eliminated to meet budget demands.
Cornett added that the bus driver position would also be eliminated through attrition.
When asked about the cuts to the activity bus routes, the school system’s Director of Personnel Judy Greear pointed out that the 21st Century Grant routes would continue as they are now at 5:30 p.m. However the 6:30 p.m. routes would be eliminated.
“How many people are those routes carrying?” asked Burris.
Dennis Roop, director of transportation for the school system, said it varied from day-to-day.
The county has two routes, one that goes east into Fries and Fairview and one that goes west into Elk Creek and Flat Ridge. He said some days there are 40 kids on one route and other days there are 14.
“It varies so much from day-to-day,” he said.
Holdaway questioned if those routes could be combined with the current 21st Century Grant routes.
Roop said administration was working to see if that was possible, but that there were some issues involved.
Cornett said the school system has to be very careful that the federal money is not being spent to support another part of the budget.
The 21st Century Grant bus runs three days a week, while the activity bus routes run four.
“We’ll continue to look at that,” Cornett said. “But there are still some problems with it right now.”
The frustrating part of the budget process is that the General Assembly remains in a deadlock in approving a state budget.
The legislators were dismissed with no budget in place, so the school system could see more or less funding.
“Are we going to be caught with less [money],” Burris asked. “Are we going to have to cut more?”
School Division Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Thomas said she didn’t expect to see less money.
Both the Senate Finance Committee and the proposed House of Delegates budgets provide a little more money, though that could change.
Thomas noted that it could be much later in the year before a budget is finalized and the county knows exactly how much money will be provided.
Getting back to the cuts, Holdaway asked why furlough days weren’t considered for the 2012-13 budget.
“If any way possible, we need to keep those instructional days in for the students,” Thomas said, noting that with increased test mandates the students and teachers need the full 180 days to learn and teach the concepts.
Holdaway asked if any other school divisions that had used furlough days during the current or previous year had seen a decrease in test scores.
Thomas said there had not been a comparison done across other divisions.
Waiting to take the motion to vote, Burris said he had a problem voting for a budget not knowing if the principal position would have to be cut or not.
“I will not cut a principal, personally, at these schools,” he said. “Saying that, it’s hard for me to approve a budget.”
Thomas reminded the board that the state requires the school board to approve a budget by the end of March, to be sent to the locality in which it resides.
She added that if the board of supervisors do not approve the additional $50,000 in funding, the board will then have to consider whether to cut that position or look at different funds to cut out.
“This is the best budget we can come up with at this point,” she said. “We believe the board of supervisors should consider providing that amount over the minimum to fund that position… that will be up to them, whether they will or not.”
Holdaway asked if any other items had been considered for cuts.
Thomas said one major thing considered was cutting the group life insurance payments from the school system and passing that cost along to the employees. However, administration didn’t think it was a viable option, because employees haven’t had a raise in four years.
“We did not think that would be a good recommendation,” Thomas told the board. “Basically, that would be a cut in salary for them.”
Not satisfied with only asking for $50,000 above minimum funding, Cassell amended her motion to increase the recommended amount by $136,300 — the amount needed to provide a 1 percent across-the-board pay increase for 2012-13.
Holdaway seconded the amendment and the motion passed on a 3-1 vote with Holdaway casting the dissenting vote. Board Member Wynn Combs was absent.
With the amendment, the board approved a budget totaling $21,335,344.25.
The board will hold a joint meeting tonight, Wednesday, with supervisors to go over the budget.
The meeting will take place in the board room of the courthouse and will begin at 6 p.m.
A public hearing will be held at a later date before the supervisors finalize the school budget.