As budget tightening at both the state and local level continues to impact Clarke County Public Schools and School Board members opt for ways to cover cost deficits, the Clarke County Board of Supervisors questioned the School Board Chairperson’s decision to possibly charge for easements on school property. The discussion quickly turned in to a heated exchange about covering mounting school costs with a fixed budget.
During yesterday’s Board of Supervisors meeting Clarke County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Murphy told the Supervisors that CCPS administration had been “shocked” to find that Kindergarten enrollment was down by 30 students this year and overall enrollment had declined by 80 students.
Although Murphy said that the declining student population was being experienced by other Virginia school districts as well, the drop in student enrollment means that the Commonwealth’s “per student” contribution of $2,999 could result in a reduction of nearly $300K to CCPS in the coming year.
At Monday night’s School Board meeting Chairperson Robina Bouffault won approval for a plan to charge other government agencies for the cost of property associated with providing the easement. On Tuesday Supervisors cautioned Bouffault about the impact of charging for easements resulting in a brief, but direct, exchange between the School Board leader and the Supervisors on fiscal responsibility.
The easement discussion commenced with Supervisor Barbara Byrd (Berryville) supporting the School Board’s easement policy. Byrd said that the Town of Berryville and the citizens of Clarke County had purchased the property for the school and should be cautious not to give away rights to the property.
As the school finance discussion continued Supervisor David Weiss (Buckmarsh) pointed out to Bouffault that charging Virginia Department of Transportation for a road easement would simply result in VDOT reducing Clarke County’s road budget by the same amount.
If Weiss’s logic is correct, the net impact of such a transaction would result in transferring the expense from one taxpayer pocket to another.
Bouffault, however, viewed the easement charge differently. During the meeting Bouffault expressed her displeasure with the Supervisor’s fiscal management of the school budget. “We’re trying to spend the money that we have on the best interests of students, not give it to the roads” Bouffault said.
“You’ve told us that any further renovations of the existing schools need to be funded from our existing budgets” Bouffault told the supervisors. “We have very limited funds. Please work with us!”
While the Commonwealth’s budget contribution to Clarke County is declining due to lower student enrollment, some temporary financial relief is in sight for the school budget thanks to the work of Clarke County’s Joint Administrative Services department.
According to JAS Director Tom Judge, nearly $300K of Federal stimulus funding for Clarke County has been identified that county budget officials had not been aware of. While the amount offsets this year’s school budget deficit, the funds are part of a “one-time” contribution from President Obama’s budget stimulus initiative.
Judge said that Clarke County filed for the Federal funding in June after his office discovered the available balance online. The money is part of the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009’s State Fiscal Stabilization Fund.
“There was no notice from the Federal government about the funding” Judge said. “When we filled for the ARRA application we saw that the fund balance was there.”