Level funding requested

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — Though state funding has shrunk by nearly $3.8 million for county schools, educators have sought level funding from the Carroll County supervisors.

The schools request to the county remains a little less than $8.9 million, or about 25 percent of the $35.3 million of the revenue coming in for the 2010-2011 operational budget, according to the presentation made by Schools Superintendent Greg Smith to the supervisors Monday.

The state will fund a little more than $22 million of the schools budget, or 62.51 percent, followed by $3.1 million provided by the federal government and $778,674, or 2.2 percent, from the stimulus package, according to the presentation.

After applying half the stimulus funds held over and a refinancing credit from the Virginia Public School Authority, both one-time revenue sources, the educators calculated a revenue shortfall of a little less than $3 million.

"The challenges that are presented to us in this economic crisis is absolutely staggering," Smith said.

How can the school officials pick and choose what to reduce out of the quality programs and personnel? Smith asked. The educators choose to protect existing employees by not filling vacancies left when other people retire or leave the division.

By using this attrition and not filling those positions, Smith said the educators can avoid layoffs.

Administrators reduced costs to make the revenues meet expenses, according to Smith's report. Chiefly by not filling positions that have opened up by employees leaving — that number has reached 40 positions over the last three budget years.

The budgetary impact of leaving those spots vacant totals nearly $2 million, Smith told the supervisors, repeating points from the presentation he gave to the school board last Thursday. And by the end of summer, before the next school year resumes, that number may reach as many as 47 people leaving.

Personnel costs account for about 82 percent of the schools operational budget, he said. The large percentage of the budget going to pay faculty and staff means it's the place where the schools have to find savings.

"It is solely the largest single expense in our budget at $22,400,629," Smith said. "Consequently, this is the category in which the greatest savings can be found."

But not filling vacancies is what has allowed the Carroll schools to lay off any teachers or other staff, Smith said. As he put it, the more vacancies that go unfilled, the more people the school system can retain.

Other reductions undertaken by the school system includes shrinking the supplement for dual credit and advanced placement courses; cutting extra curricular supplements by 20 percent; reducing the days and hours of nursing staff and at-risk program aides; restructuring summer school; reducing general expenditures by 10 percent; and restructuring the employee health insurance program.

The consequence of these reductions means the schools are impacting the services offered to the students and families who may need them most, Smith said. The cuts are starting to "hinder and hurt" those the school system serves.

Adding in revenue needed for school debt services and other educational programs, educators project a total of about $39.7 million in revenues in the 2010-2011 budget. A chart showed that's a $2.98 million reduction in revenues from the 2009-2010 budget, which totaled $42.6 million.

Without the $623,000 refinancing credit from the VPSA, closing the budgetary gap may not have been possible, Smith said.

While educators are happy that they avoided slashing peoples' jobs, it still makes Smith concerned about the negative impact on school programs these cuts will have.

He expects the cuts — including the unfilled positions — will lead to larger class sizes for students, fewer services and programs.

"People are certainly services, people are certainly programs, people are the engine which keeps this school system moving forward," he said. "And, as we are forced to reduce staff, parts of the engine begin to break down and cease to function."

That means that the schools will not be able to offer many of the basic services the public has come to expect when students return to class in August, the superintendent said. The vehicle may appear normal by outward appearances, but the engine will be slowing down and parts failing.

The outlook for 2012 isn't good either, as educators understand the county will receive less state revenue due to changes in the local composite index, no additional state funding will be forthcoming and no federal stimulus money will be available, Smith told the supervisors. Plus, the county's portion of the Virginia Retirement System will increase in 2011.

These factors already point to a future budget gap, and options to cut costs through personnel and carryover funds have narrowed, Smith said.

Educators continue to assess personnel vacancies, roll over any unspent monies to 2012, redraw attendance zones to more effectively use resources, he said.

Despite these strategies, Smith expects the school system will still require additional revenues in 2012, either from the state or the locality, to maintain the current level of services.

Given the chance to ask Smith questions, Supervisors' Chairman Wes Hurst wondered if reducing teacher supplements for dual credit classes will impact the course offerings that students can take.

(Dual credit means that students can take classes at the high school level and earn college credits for them at the same time.)

Teachers will get less of a pay supplement for teaching dual credit courses, Smith answered. The number of courses offered will not be impacted.

What type of positions will not be refilled? Supervisor Manus McMillian asked.

That includes food service, aides, English, health and more — even a principal, Smith said. Of those not replaced, 25 were teachers. He expects maybe another five retirements to happen this year.

Asked about the impact of not replacing these teachers, Smith said class sizes could climb to about 24 or 25 for elementary school and as many as 28 in the secondary classes.

The supervisors and the superintendent also discussed the strategy of using textbook funds to close the operational gap. Smith explained that the state loosened up the ways that school systems can tap into textbook monies, allowing them to put them towards operational expenses.

They also talked about how lottery proceeds were supposed to be supplementary funds but are now the main way that the state funds school systems.

If any funds are retained, Smith asked the supervisors to allow the schools to be able to carry them over to the following year's budget.

When supervisors complimented Smith on the budget presentation, Smith said, "We worked hard. The school board had a vision of what was going to be happening — and we worked hard to try not to place the burden of the budget process on the county, on to the taxpayer."

It's worked this year, but next year Smith said he might come with his hand out, looking for some help.

Having heard the budget presentation, the supervisors scheduled a public hearing on the schools budget for April 15 at 7 p.m.

The schools budget will be approved April 26.