Grayson: savings from closed schools still not enough

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By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

INDEPENDENCE — As the debate continues over how much money Grayson schools should return to the county — savings from the closing of schools — the supervisors may take matters into their own hands.

During a budget workshop meeting April 14, Grayson Schools' Director of Instruction and Assessment Steven Cornett presented the supervisors with the information they had requested earlier in the month.

The information included costs of operating Bridle Creek Elementary and Mount Rogers Combined School, which are set to be closed, as well as projected expenses to run Grayson Highlands School.

The figures gave the supervisors a better idea of what savings to anticipate, but the number was not what they expected.

Cornett showed that, for one semester next year, the school board would save $136,755, assuming the delayed Grayson Highlands School is able to open for the second semester next school year.

The following year, the projection jumps to $238,777 — a number that is nowhere near the expected $331,000 per school that supervisors expected when they estimated the savings prior to embarking on the facilities update.

Cornett added that the cost of running Grayson Highlands was simply a “guestimate,” and could vary depending on enrollment and other factors.

Supervisors' Chairman Mike Maynard questioned if the same process was used the first time to compute the numbers as this time. The $331,000 expected savings was supposed to have included the costs of opening a new school.

The debate is over the fact that original savings figure was valid only if the schools were closed completely, and no teachers or personnel were sent to another school. However, school officials say that was not possible.

“This puts us in a very different spot financially then we thought we would be when we approved it,” Maynard said of the new construction.

Cornett reiterated Schools Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Thomas' point that, while it may not be exactly what was projected, the school system had returned to the county a significant amount of money in the first few years, and actually closed Elk Creek School several years early, bringing that money in sooner.

Later in the meeting supervisors returned to the question of how much money should be included in the revenue side of the budget from the school system.

According to documentation Maynard found from past board meetings, the expected savings in 2009 was $880,000.

“That's what we ought to hold them accountable for,” said Supervisors' Vice Chairman Larry Bartlett.

The school board has requested level funding of roughly $4.6 million for the 2009-10 budget year, and Maynard said that it wasn't just about approving how much to give the school system. It was about how much the school board would return in savings.

Supervisor Joe Vaughan added that, while he didn't want to take anything away from the children of Grayson County, he sees on the news every day where other school systems were cutting positions and other expenses to use less money.

Maynard added that, although most of the money in the school budget is from an increase in federal monies, more would be spent on education in Grayson this year than ever before.

“What's the right number,” Maynard said of how much the school system should be returning. “That's what we need to include in the budget.”

According to Maynard's documentation, the school should be returning, on average, $347,000 per school closed.

Elk Creek was a bit below the average, and came in around $287,000, but Maynard said the documents showed Bridle Creek and Mount Rogers should each have the higher number.

Supervisors tentatively set $634,000 as the amount that the school system would be required to turn in at the end of the 2009-10 budget.

Maynard then questioned if the board of supervisors could approve the budget in only two categories — one for debt service only (the money that would be returned to the county) and the other for everything else.

Maynard said he didn't want to tie the school board's hands with a bunch of line item numbers, and would rather make sure the only line item was one that would guarantee the money be returned. The school system would be able to use the rest of the money as needed.

The supervisors took no action on the budget.

A public hearing will be held at the board's next budget workshop on May 5 at 6:30 p.m. in regards to the school system's budget.