School Board Dives in on Budget Discussions

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.



  1. I heard an interesting comment about the food service that I have not heard official comment about.

    The drive to provide all healthy choices at the cafeteria (which is admirable) has driven down consumption of school lunches and also contributed to the food services pinch.

    I also heard that the banned tater tots and french fries had been returned to the menu.

    Is this accurate?

  2. Momin22611 says:

    I have been told by food service staff that there has been a significant decrease in the number of children buying school lunches. This decrease would raise the labor cost.

    My children have always bought lunch at the cafeteria until this year, when I have cut back due to the increased cost, even though, I would prefer to have them buy lunch. While it may not seem that the cost has risen much, there are more line item charges that have increased the overall price of a meal. For example: water is now a dollar a bottle. Water used to be much cheaper when the school system ran the program. The cost of my son’s lunches were running 4 to 5 dollars a day. Now he brings his lunch.

    Other mothers have also remarked to me on the increased price and they are also cutting back. These higher prices have already driven down participation. Sodexo will need to address customer/parental dissatisfaction on the line item pricing in order to recapture and increase student participation.

    Our food service workers work hard and fully deserve the benefits they receive. I certainly hope that the budget will not be balanced on the backs of the working poor. The Food Service workers should retain their benefits.

  3. livein22611 says:

    So Sodexo has helped lower food costs? And I know we have lost some food service staff. Wonder why the overrun is so high? Perhaps it’s the food taste, same as before. Things seemed good when Sodexo first took over but kids report the food has gone downhill again. I don’t think Sodexo is working out very well.

  4. Alwayswatching says:

    I think this SB has a lot of budgetery challenges ahead of them and I wish them well.

    I still don’t understand the change of venue. As quoted in the past CDN article , Dr. Murphy had already expended funds ( $$$$) to equip Primary with AV equipment. We don’t have money like that to buy on a on a whim!
    Previous CDN article:

    “When later asked about the lack of video screens for sharing computer presentations Murphy pointed to an empty wall on the side of the room where a large format screen, which he said has already been ordered, would be mounted.”

    I just can’t seem to wrap my head around the fact that we paid for a beautiful ( albiet problematic at times) new government center that accomadates all citizens in an audience fourm ( arm rested graduated seats, podium microphone, technology, snow removed and lighted parking lots).

    Why are the tax payers forced to sit in a cramped library when an beautiful tax funded option is available for free?

    • Because there were continual issues with keys after hours, A/V equipment that regularly glitched, an HVAC system that is poorly designed, an elevator that sometimes was turned off (problematic for someone in a wheelchair), and coffee and lgiht refreshments were not an option (not just for the SB, but also for the Town Council AND Supervisors).

      The Primary’s parking lot is well lit, as is the current CCHS; snow is removed; it’s free; decent microphone.

      • Not sure why they don’t use the Middle School auditorium. Plenty of seats and microphone. Well lit parking lot, and all handicap accessible. Setup would also be minimal.

  5. I have had lunch with my grandchildren a number of times over the last couple of years. Prices have increased each year and the quaility of the food has decreased.

  6. This is the first year my son has bought at school. He is very much into healthy eating and finds the choices are good. Occasionally, they run out of choices for his eating restrictions but that is rare. Not sure why lunches would cost someone $4-$5 dollars. Lunch prices are $2.35. Heard that tatter tots and fries (sweet potato) were available but these are baked not fried. If kids are eating more than the basic meals the price can go up, but as a parent, that is for us to decide but $2.35 for a lunch with protein, carbs, vege, fruit, and milk is pretty reasonable – can’t get lunch at McDonald’s for that price.