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Stimulus saves Galax teaching positions

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By April Wright, Reporter

Before Galax City Schools gained $245,952 in federal stimulus funds for the 2009-2010 budget, newly-named Superintendent Bill Sturgill feared that cuts to staff, programs and even school supplies would have to be made.

“Before the stimulus, we were looking at having to make cuts in areas that would have the least impact on students and the community,” he told The Gazette. “These cuts were not just layoffs, but materials and having to absorb retirement positions.”

But since the school system will receive its share of the stimulus funds, the 220 employees — including 120 teachers — should be safe from layoffs, he said.

The $13.44 million budget is down considerably from this school year's $14.27 million, but Sturgill pointed out that $500,000 of this year's total includes a loan used to renovate Galax High School.

The city and school board estimate the following revenue:

• $970,000 in sales tax — a $20,000 decrease.

• $6.97 million in state funds, including $245,952 in stimulus funds — a $523,361 decrease.

• $1.34 million from federal funds — a $22,965 decrease.

• $3.96 million from city funds — a $125,000 increase.

• $81,550 in other funds — a $6,068 decrease.

• $125,000 in loans and investments — a $463,002 overall decrease, due to excluding the $500,000 construction loan for GHS.

According to federal guidelines, the nearly $246,000 in stimulus money is meant to stabilize the system and is to be used to prevent layoffs. Teachers, however, will not receive a salary increase this year, Sturgill said.

With a dip in state funds, “the main concern was maintaining the students and staff with less money. There will be no backwards movement, but the faculty and staff respect and understand what we have to do,” he said, of staff not receiving a pay raise.

And due to two retirements — one business instructor and one math teacher — coming at the end of the school year, staff will be reorganized. Even though no decisions have been made on where these absorptions will take place, student numbers in each class are driving the determinations.

Another $600,000 in stimulus funds — up to $300,000 for special education and $300,000 for Title 1 schools — will enable the division to not only support existing programs, but also create new and innovative programs for the 2009-2010 school year.

Galax Elementary is a Title 1 school, which receives additional funds due to a high percentage of low-income families. The money is for professional development, instructional materials, resources to support educational programs and parental involvement promotion.

“It's actually an exciting time, since we'll have all the federal money that will allow us to be creative to find programs to support students,” Sturgill said, remaining economically optimistic. “And once the economy turns, we should be able to continue those programs without the support of federal money.”

Sturgill said faculty and staff have only placed ideas on the table for new programs. Although not included in the proposed budget just yet, Sturgill said the system should start receiving this stimulus money at anytime.

“With this being my first experience in developing a budget, I was really amazed of the partnership between the school board, city council and the school system,” he said. “They wanted to create a budget that would best serve the community...It is a very open process with no surprises, and everybody wins because of that partnership.”

Sturgill, former principal of Galax High School, took on the new position as superintendent in February, after Sam Cook retired.

“I stepped into a leadership position that has been managed very well. He was a good steward of the tax dollars.”

Sturgill said he plans to do the same as he looks ahead at ways for the system to be cost-effective. He said he plans to cut back on professional travel and has talked with the building administrator about controlling electrical costs.

Since the expenditure side of the budget is still being developed, it is expected to have multiple amendments throughout the budget season, he said, including the stimulus funds for special education and Title 1 schools.

“We don't have the budget approved from [city] council yet, but we feel confident,” he said.

Galax City Council has set a public hearing on the school budget for April 13.