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School budgeting pays off

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — Cutting costs, saving stimulus funds and not filling vacant positions have allowed Carroll County Public Schools to avoid teacher layoffs in the upcoming budget, the school board discussed Tuesday.

Given the choice between trimming expenses and laying off personnel, Carroll County Public Schools officials have worked hard to save jobs, Superintendent Greg Smith noted.

Administrators used about half of the educational funds that came to the schools this year, but held on to the other half, knowing that challenging economic conditions would likely continue.

Educators also saved money by not filling positions that became vacant for the last three years.

That's kept Carroll schools from laying off any employees for the 2010-2011 school year.

Finances manager Tammy Quesenberry gave the school board an update on the draft plan that the budget committee has come up with.

Committee members expect the state funds for Carroll schools to decrease somewhere between $3.3 million to $4 million — the difference between budget proposals in the state Senate and the House of Delegates, Quesenberry explained.

That's an educated guess that has shaped the local budget process, she said.

In order to make ends meet, Quesenberry said the committee has recommended:

• not filling 10 positions that will be vacated this year.

(That means Carroll schools has eliminated 40 positions over the last three budget years, she said.)

• reducing the teaching supplement for dual credit and advanced placement courses to $500 per block

• reducing extracurricular supplements for both athletics and academics by 20 percent

• reducing days and hours for the school nursing staff

• reducing days and hours for at-risk 4-year-old program aides

• consolidating summer school.

(Summer school will offer students remediation opportunities only, explained Strader Blankenship, assistant superintendent for instruction. The three elementary school sites from last year will be reduced to two — St. Paul and Hillsville — and limited transportation will be available.)

• reducing materials, purchase services, travel and equipment line items by 10 percent.

• restructuring of health insurance program for employees.

(The school system will stick with its current insurance provider, but will offer different plan options in order to save $102,000.)

Balancing the budget depends on several one-time revenue sources, Quesenberry reported.

The school board can apply the remaining $778,674 of stimulus funds left over from the current year towards the expected state funding deficit, she said.

There's also $200,000 of carryover funds from Carroll County, she added.

Administrators also plan to hold off another year on putting $295,000 into the textbook fund. That money will go into the operating fund.

This is the second year in a row that educators will not replenish the textbook fund, Quesenberry said.

Educators are also counting on a proposed reduction of $460,000 required from Carroll to go into the Virginia Retirement System, Quesenberry said. That's one of the areas where the House and Senate budget proposals appear to agree.

And Carroll schools had received a one-time refinancing credit from the Virginia Public Schools Association of $622,978.

Prudent use of stimulus funds and other one-time revenues will buy the Carroll schools some time, Smith said.

The school system is at a point where making the budget work comes down to cutting things like supplements or employees, Superintendent Greg Smith said. It gives the school system another year to see if the economic and state revenue will bounce back.

The pain will increase if any more money has to be cut from the upcoming budget year.

"We are at the junction in the budget process in which we have nowhere else to go to fill the gap," Smith said.

Any more cuts would mean peoples' jobs, which the administrators have been working to protect, he said. “If we have a choice then we choose to keep people.”

Carroll school administrators have tried to slim down costs this year by attrition, and the one-time revenues have helped them do that, he said.

But at the start of the following fiscal year, Smith projects the school budget will already be facing a $1.5 million deficit.

There was more discussion at the budget committee meeting on Monday, where members celebrated not having to resort to layoffs.

"We've bent a little, but we're not broken," said School Board Member Harold Golding. "When you start losing people you break the system, but right now we're bending as far as we can bend."

But the school system will have to change due to these budget cuts, Smith told the budget committee. The number of students to teachers in the classroom will probably have to rise, for example.

It will impact children for future generations because the funding for the current high quality educational program is going away, he said. There will be more hard choices, the superintendent expects.

School Board Member Reginald Gardner has a concern that legislators are more willing to consider providing less money for education than to even consider a sales tax increase or some other way to generate more revenue.

That's despite the fact Virginia has lower rates than all the states round it.

"We're taking this recession and putting it on the backs of the children of the state of Virginia..." he said.