The Clarke County School Board got down to business quickly last night as it began preparing for two major milestones in the coming weeks; tackling school renovations and formulating its budget proposal to the Clarke County Board of Supervisors.
School Board members Dr. Beth Leffel (Buckmarsh) and Jim Brinkmeier (Berryville) kept the meeting focused during budget discussions with in-depth questioning of CCPS Superintendent Dr. Michael Murphy and Joint Administrative Services director Tom Judge about methods for saving school budget resources. Brinkmeier lead much of the discussion focusing on methods for extending school bus life, refinancing options of school bonds to reduce debt service payment, and concerns over a potentially large food service deficit.
According to Dr. Murphy, there has been significant improvement in CCPS’s food service operations, but high labor costs continue to cause financial challenges. Tom Judge told School Board members that $100K in contingency funds have been set aside to cover yet another year of food service operating deficits.
Under questioning from Leffel, Judge said that if the food service deficit exceeded $100K in costs, the overrun would have to be be taken from the school division’s operating budget.
From a budgetary perspective, CCPS’s food service fund is expected to cover its program cost from its own operating revenues. Any cost overruns must be funded from school operating funds. Such cost overruns, if any, will are particularly troublesome this year as the division’s school budget continues to be squeezed due to the challenging economic climate.
During the subsequent in depth discussion, Dr. Murphy told the School Board that CCPS’s food service labor cost, as a percentage of revenue, was around 54% while the broader industry standard was closer to 45%. Sodexo, CCPS’s food service contractor, is primarily responsible only for food purchasing and management of Clarke County Public School’s food service employees Murphy said.
However, Brinkmeier countered that his own personal experience in running a food service business was that the industry labor rate standard was closer to 35%. Murphy then explained that many CCPS food service employees, by the nature of their labor contracts, qualify for health care benefits which raise the division’s overall costs.
“When Sodexo was hired there was no interest in terminating our food service staff,” Murphy said. “We are now looking at providing satellite food service to other schools from the new Clarke County High School kitchen and plan to work on reducing labor costs through attrition.”
Although Murphy said that Sodexo has helped the division achieve food costs that are actually lower than surrounding school divisions, Brinkmeier asked the Superintendent to investigate possibilities for joining a cooperative food buying services.
Murphy added that further increases in food service revenue would be challenging telling the School Board that Clarke County Public School meal pricing is among the highest in the area and that further price increases could drive down student participation.
“Labor costs are really the biggest part of the challenge,” Tom Judge added.
School Renovation Progress
In other news, the School Board voted to create a “special committee of the whole” to handle school renovations with Jim Brinkmeier as the committee chair. At a previous meeting Robina Bouffault agreed to see construction of the new high school through to completion by accepting continuation in her position as authorized owner’s representative for construction of the new high school.
The first meeting of the new renovation committee will be February 27th at 6:00pm at the Clarke County High School.
School Board Plans New Meeting Place
School Board Chairman Janet Alger (Russell) announced last night that future School Board meetings will no longer be held in Berryville Primary’s multi-purpose room.
“We took a straw poll among the School Board members and decided that everyone would be more comfortable at a different location.”
Alger cited poor acoustics and continuing audio-visual equipment challenges.
Future Clarke County School Board meetings will be held at the Clarke County High School library.
School Budget Deliberations
The School Board plans a special meeting on February 6 at 5:30pm to discuss the Superintendent’s employment contract as well as prepare for upcoming budget discussions with the Board of Supervisors.