Clarke County Schools Superintendent, Dr. Michael Murphy presented a grim budget scenario at Monday night’s School Board meeting. As the budget meeting stretched on towards 10pm, the financial outlook only seemed to grow darker as additional budget reductions were called for.
“Last night was one of the hardest nights in my 34 years in public education,” Murphy said in a Tuesday morning memo sent to school staff. “As I shared our budget proposal I did so with the caveat that there was nothing in the proposal that I could support… the requested COLA is too small, the additional staffing too few, the proposed cuts too great.”
During the Monday night session at the Clarke County High School library, Murphy described the Division’s many needs including 2.5 elementary school teachers and a wheel chair instructional assistant. Murphy also said that at least one school bus replacement was needed given that approximately a third of the fleet has mileage exceeding 175,000 miles.
Murphy also called for a two-percent cost of living raise for the Division’s staff in his budget request.
During the ensuing budget discussion, Murphy said that although the $1.6M budget request is offset by $650K in increased state and federal funding as well as lower-than-expected health insurance, the new teaching and instructional assistant positions, combined with the cost-of-living raise, still bring the school division’s currently unfunded needs to $1.4M.
Murphy then presented the School Board with $921K in possible additional budget cuts – which include reduction or elimination of staff, reductions in sports programs, reduced grounds maintenance, elimination of summer school and other cuts – reducing the budget to a $458K unfunded deficit.
School Board Chairman Janet Alger (Russell) then directed Murphy to find $458K of additional potential cuts necessary to bring the budget proposal to zero-level increase.
Describing Alger’s direction to formulate the additional $458K in budget cuts, Murphy said in his Tuesday morning email to school staff “In addition, the administrative team was also asked to find another $457,519 in cuts… we will begin that work today, with a heavy heart.”
Yet, at last night’s meeting, several speakers urged the School Board to resist any pressure to submit a budget that doesn’t fully meet the needs of students.
“You look at school buses, and how many years that they should run and how often we should replace them,” said Millwood resident Bill Bell. “You need talk about whether you replace those buses every ten to fifteen years instead of every fifteen to twenty years. Do care when it comes to doing the right thing with the age of your buses because it plays into a legal phenomenon. If a bus goes off a cliff and it has 64 14-inch wide fannies in it, then you’ll have a real problem that goes well beyond the age of the bus.”
“This is about the kids. We can’t continue to drop the budget. This School Board needs to spend a little more time thinking about how to present a valid argument to the County Board of Supervisors on why the budget needs to be what you present instead of sitting here trying to appease them with how you are going to cut the budget. If you want to cut the budget, one thing is certain from past history; Take transportation out of summer school and kids quit coming; Don’t pay for IB diploma testing and kids quit taking the tests; Make kids pay to go to swim meets and they will quit swimming. Just figure out which program it is that you want to cut tonight and eliminate something like transportation or charge pay-for-play because that will cause the program to be gone in three years. […] Take the budget to the Supervisors of what you think you need, what you think the kids deserve, and say ‘This is why we need it.’ Quit sitting around trying to figure out how to make the Board of Supervisors happy.”
White Post resident Tony Parrott also asked the School Board to formulate their budget based on student needs.
“This isn’t tough guys,” Parrott said. “What you believe in and what you’re willing to stand-up for is what is going to matter here. If you’re not leading with what’s best for these kids when you’re talking to the Board of Supervisors then you’re not leading.”
“Once you start cutting this budget down past the bone test scores aren’t going to matter anymore. […] It is your responsibility to come up with a budget that meets the needs of the school district, not ‘meets the needs of the Board of Supervisors.’ […] You have to present the Supervisors with a budget that makes sense for the school district and the kids in this community. […] There’s been a lot of talk tonight about where we’re going to cut and how we’re going to cut. The answer’s easy. Don’t cut. Put a budget together that makes sense for the children in the County, give the budget to the Supervisors and then make the arguments. Are you willing to go to bat for the kids in this County or not? ”
Clarke County Education Association representative and Johnson Williams Middle School Librarian/Media Specialist, Andrew Kiser also addressed the School Board. Kiser said that it is time to make an investment in Clarke County education even though the County is experiencing tough economic times.
“On behalf of the teachers and students I request that this School Board step-up and go to bat for us like we do for the students here,” Kiser said. “We need the resources outlined in this budget and we need a salary increase. We’ve heard that the School Board is planning to seek level funding. No. That’s not good enough anymore.”
However, not everyone who attended Monday night’s meeting agreed that the schools need additional funding. Former School Board member, Robina Bouffault, who attended last night’s meeting but did not speak, issued her own Tuesday morning memo recapping the meeting
“The manner in which the so-called budget was presented – as a hand-out at the meeting that the School Board had not had the opportunity to see beforehand and where there were no real explanations of the reasons for most of the requested increases – shows in my view, a certain disrespect of the School Board by the Superintendent” said Bouffault. “Dr. Murphy keeps bringing back the same requests for huge increases, however shuffling the numbers around to confuse the public, and calling any decrease in his huge increase requests “CUTS”, instead of reductions in his increases.”
Bouffault said that that the proposed budget “contained no cuts at all in his requests, only more of everything. More employees, higher salaries, and of course the usual threat to ‘cut’ athletics if he doesn’t get everything he wants, sure to enrage the public.”
Although Murphy and Bouffault share little common ground when it comes to the current school budget request, neither is shy when it comes to sharing their opinions about the fiscal future of the school system. Murphy’s Tuesday morning communique with staff made it clear that he believes that the currently contemplated budget reductions are not in the best interests of the County’s students.
“In fact, I don’t believe there is one thing in this proposal that is good for children or the adults that work with and serve them, and I publicly stated this fact, not only once, but twice,” Murphy said.
The next Clarke County Public Schools finance committee meeting is scheduled for February 15th at 1:30pm at the School Board office. The CCPS school budget is expected to be presented to the Clarke County Board of Supervisors on or about March 6th, 2012.
For a look at the budget document discussed at the February 13, Clarke County School Board meeting please click here: FY13 Proposed Budget Analysis