School Budget Generates Emotions and Concerns

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.”

Bell continued.

“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.”

Parrott continued.

“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




  1. Robina, during your term, did you EVER spend time in the schools, during a school day, to see what is done while you cut the budget an aggregate of $1.2 million? Has any of the current new board memebrs (Leffel and Brinkmeier) made any plans to actually SEE what goes on every day?

    The BUDGET was handed out last week; the 4 tiers of cuts were handed out last night, inresponse to member questions. That is an important distinction that Robina ignores.

    I agree with Mr. Parrot, though…don’t cut anything else. Seek the funding that is sorely needed. You want to attract business investment? One thing potential empoyers look for in a community is how it values its schools. When they look at Clarke, what sort of commitment are they going to see?

    • Right Winger says:

      I agree with Tony as well.

      Make the BOS show what [redacted] they really are. Once they do that, force a referendum.

  2. I didn’t get to go to the meeting last night. Is there a copy of the new proposed budget with the first cuts mentioned available? Also, are the finance committee meetings open or closed?

    CDN editor:

  3. My 2 Cents says:

    Tony, once again you speak the truth! Why should our kids have to be at the mercy of the BOS??

  4. RollingInTheDough says:

    You all need to be more understanding with the BOS. They are busy, hard working people that have very important and difficult decisions to make. At the top of the list is how do we make this battlefield park work!!! How do we get the park we so desperately need to bring in all those tourist dollars!!! Once we get the Battle Field park the money will start rolling in and we’ll be able to purchase those new school busses every 5 years… We will be rolling in the dough…

  5. Clarke Life says:

    Thats the whole problem with this county. If they let more MEANINGFUL business’s come in here we would have some tax revenue. You cannot expect the ones we have now to carry the load.

  6. livein22611 says:

    Anyone know how much a 3 cent raise in taxes would generate and how much extra it would be for the average homeowner in Clarke? The only way to raise money for the schools is for the county to stop funding their pet projects (i.e.conservation easements) for a while and get the system back on track. They can bring these projects back as they get new tax generators in the county. Call your supervisor and let them know you support a small tax increase as long as the money is going to the schools!

    • Since my real estate assessment went UP after EACH of the last 2 four year reviews, I’m am opposed to any increase on real estate taxes.
      Additionally, as someone who doesn’t have children, I don’t feel responsible to fund the school budget shortfall. When you make the decision to have a child you should be prepared to be financially responsible for the childs education – public or private. And when the school system needs funding, it should be the parents who are first asked to bear the burden.

      • That is an incredibly selfish and short-sighted view of things. Educating the children is the responsibility of the entire community, and thus the costs are spread out over the entire community.

        • Educating my three children is exclusively the responsiblity of my wife and I. You are not responsible for my kids, the teachers and school board are not responsible for my kids, the community is not responsible for my kids. I was taught early on in my career as a Marine that you can deligate your authority but not your responsiblity. I have four great kids in the school system here, and the teachers deserve NO credit for that and neither does the community.

          The teachers, administrator and staff are employees paid to do a job. Nothing more. They get paid extremely well and have excellent benefits and they should stop whining about a raise or crying about the pay in Fairfax and Loudoun. If they want to get paid what Fairfax teachers get paid they should move to Fairfax and teach in one of their gang infested schools.

          The school budget is ridiculous and I hope the BOS rejects it. I am in the schools all the time and am constantly amazed by the number of people sitting around not doing anything and the outrageous amount of support staff. The leadership is terrible with the exception of 1 principle. Dr. Murphy should stop crying about money and start leading and holding people accountable. Maybe think about the people in this community that are truely having a hard time instead of complaining about raises for overpaid and underworked teachers.

          And thank you Robina for being the only one who actually talks about the facts and real numbers instead of a bunch of smoke and mirrors. This forum is pretty homogenous but out in the community their are a lot of folks that appreciate what you do.

          • OK, GI Joe, cool your bombast. I’m not sure which school(s) you go in “all the time,” but your experience is not what I’ve experienced. And…correction…it IS the job of the community to provide for a good public education for the children. Those support staff are there to meet requirements of federal special education laws and other needs.

            I’m glad to hear you’ve doen right in raising up good kids to go to school with my kids and about 2000 others. Maybe, the next time you’re actually IN a school, spend some time in a class and help out; see the dynamics that go on, see what the real needs are, instead of making some cursory glance and teeing off on some knee-jerk reaction without knowing all the facts.

          • Right Winger says:

            “Educating my three children is exclusively the responsiblity of my wife and I. … I have four great kids in the school system here”

            I hope you’re not teaching them math.

          • Unbelievable!!! If are the only one responsible for your kids, then home school your kids. Nice outlook you have.

          • Well, you may have a couple of valid points. Unfortunetly, NCLB trumps you on resonsibility.

            According to the constitution of the commonweath of Virginia; the ounos falls on CCPS to educate your child..

          • If you really feel that way, you might want to consider home schooling your children. This will enable you to accept complete responsibility for your children’s future success in life. It will also ensure that your children achieve the same academic level of achievement that you have exhibited in your post. I’m sure Robina is very flattered to have your support.

      • Right Winger says:

        So, where did you go to school, public or private?

      • i bet you’ll feel differently when a generation of poorly educated products of a defunded public school system grow up ill equipped to function productively and self sufficiently in society.
        you may not feel responsible – but you are just by being a citizen of this world. sorry.

      • That mentality makes no sense to me. Look at all the federal taxes we pay for things we don’t as individuals use or get involved in. I have no child or family member in the service now, so should I get a tax break to not fund a war? Maybe you should get a tax break for never calling the Sheriff or Fire Companies for help. If you live in this community then you are, and should be a participant in the educations of Clarke’s children and all the other issues that face the county. Well educated children help all of us and are our futures. If you want to get your social security someday than you better hope the kids get educated so there taxes will pay for your retirement.

      • Now that’s an ignorant statement. It is unfortunate that as a “non parent” you are so short sighted. The children we educate today are the leaders of tomorrow. So you may not have a child of your own but you better believe that it’s a child of today that will decide on your future so tread lightly on thinking you don’t carry responsibility in funding the shortfall. What goes around come around.

      • livein22611 says:

        Well, I will not be using the senior center. Please do not use any of my tax money to support it. Do you really want to go down that road…..?

  7. Stonebroke says:

    Since we already use Fred. County for everything else—have we ever considered transporting our kids to Frederick County to use their school system? We already pay to use Sanitation, Jails, and Retail stores…so why not their school systems. It is obvious that Clarke can’t afford to properly fund our current school system.

  8. WakeupClarke says:

    Why can’t Clarke fund the current school system? The answer is simple the taxpayers w/thin the county are becoming cumbersome of footing the bill for everything. If the Board of Supervisors (BOS) would change the laws within the county and town, maybe businesses would be coming forth to participate in Clarke County. Oh that’s right wake up now it is a dream. Stop voting for individuals who undermine the system. NEW BLOOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!, out with the old and in with the new. The only ones who do not complain are the BOS s within the county, whose property is in engulfed by conservation easements and they don’t have to pay taxes. Would you want to change the law, if it meant that you didn’t have to pay taxes on property? Well that can be answered within oneself. They made the laws, laws are meant to be CHANGED.

    • The reality is that no one wants to run for these offices. Recall that most go unopposed.

      The real problem is apathy.

      No one cares, they just like to complain without contributing to a solution.

      Complaining is the panacea that makes people feel like they are contributing.

      They like to talk about the barriers to getting involved and how it’s not convenient for them to get involved, but at the end of the day there are many opportunities to be involved that will fit almost any schedule. It just takes time and energy and people would rather not share those two precious commodities.

      • If you read this forum on a regular basis; you’ll see apathy is not the problem.

        If you look at the up votes to Stonebroke’s previous post, you’ll see the soloution is right in front of us.

  9. If we want to talk tax hikes here let’s start with the way the county taxes businesses… In all counties except Clarke businesses are taxed on gross sales. Not in Clarke County, my Father in law pays $30.00 to do business in Clarke County. In Warren Co. his taxes are $800.00 + per year for the same business based of gross sales.

    And for Stonebroke’s point, I moved my family to Frederick County and my son’s grades went up, he entered Dow J. Howard and is receiving his electrical apprenticeship. Frederick County bussed him to Manassas to take his OSHA test, Frederick Co. is also setting up interviews with local businesses to get him and his classmates a job after the school year is complete that pays $16.00 an hour to continue his training and be an electricians apprentice and he is 18 years old. This program wasn’t even offered in Clarke County Schools.

    • Allan "Bugs" McWilliams says:

      I agree with GOP Junkie, $30 bucks a year from Sheetz, not a penny on all gross sales. I talked to a couple of supervisors about this. They said it was anti business & would keep companies from locating here. It sure doesn’t keep them from locating in our neighboring localities.

      • I find it amusing that our BOS thinks a common tax practice is anti business… Have they looked in the mirror? Geeez!

  10. Because I Care says:

    In addition to all other comments, my guess is we will see a trend of more people moving out of the county than moving into the county for at least the next several years. I see a lot of for sale signs on homes that are just sitting, many are already empty. My theory is the jump in gas prices has affected how far potential buyers from the East are willing to commute. Being out by ourselves geographically without any substantial businesses for employment does not help. And I doubt gas prices are going to go down anytime soon. Home values in this area have not stabilized and continue to drop. Our focus has got to be developing areas for new business and a change in the business tax laws for needed revenue.

  11. For me it was the fact that I could get so much more for my money in Frederick Co. as it pertains to housing. The Schools, access to retail shops, parks and full time paid fire companies were just the perks of the county. I simply couldn’t find a 2200 square modern up to date home in Clarke County that was affordable to me. In Frederick County there were numerous choices. I don’t think Frederick for a Second is better than Clarke but for my family it was the best choice for getting the most for my dollar.

    I think some of you will disagree with me on this but to me Clarke has isolated it’s self from the average everyday family. People that are mature and don’t have school ages children, or folks that don’t have medical issues or don’t often need police or fire will do great in Clarke Co. But in turn, families that have children and want internet and cable TV will not thrive in Clarke. People that come to Clarke looking for a slower pace of life but still want convenience and service with the small town country feel will eventually get disgruntled as time goes on with the lack of progression in the advancement of the community.

    The Schools are the heart and soul of any community. If the schools are failing then the community will follow. Think of the football games and the tennis club meet and all the activities that keep our youth engaged and out of trouble that will suffer when the schools fail to endure. My son has had what I feel to be every opportunity to excel and find his way in Frederick County. There is no reason these opportunities shouldn’t be available to children in Clarke Co.

  12. This may be a stupid question but, does anyone know what our Mayor does?

    Whats his stance on the school budget or the new park proposal?
    I never here him mentioned.

    • He keeps office hours. Why don’t you stop by and ask him?
      Local government is all about participation, it’s not a spectator sport.

  13. StoneBroke says:

    Don’t think he has a dog in the Park proposal since that is County Business. I do think he should have some sort of input for the school budget. I’m sure he is too busy operating the metropolis of Berryville.

  14. Allan "Bugs" McWilliams says:

    The mayor of Berryville or Boyce has no input towards the school budget by state code. The school board sets the budget & the county supervisors have have the say in the final funding. The proposed park is the county. The mayor and council have no dog in this fight.

  15. Darby and the Brooks says:

    It amazes me that the County can spend with no problem $1.29m on the Active Living Center/Senior Center but they can’t find the funds for our children. Hate to sound cruel but we need to have our priorities straight, that kind of money should go to schools, fire dept., police dept.,,,NOT some senior center!!! I know the money has already been allocated but the point is get your priorities straight! Fund our schools! Give our teachers who work so hard a raise they deserve!!! Give our children the opportunity to get a good education. It should always be about the children first!!

    • I support the teachers and a new school. But isn’t it a bit selfish to say that your children should come first, even at someone else’s expense. I have no idea what the senior center offers, but a community is made up of more than just parents and their school age children. A community should include the elderly, the single, the childless, parents and children. I really think you should re-evaluate your comment about children always coming first. It really does lack compassion. The way we treat the elderly is every bit as important as the care we provide for our children.

  16. Tony Parrott says:

    We are opening a new school this coming school year that is larger than any other school in the district. The state of Virginia is pushing the cost of benefits to the localities. Those items you cannot argue; they will cost us more.
    The change in the composite index is giving the district more in state funding but not enough to offset the increases.
    We need a few more teachers and the whole county needs a cost of living increase; not just the schools.
    Here are the bare facts: If the BOS wants level funding and the district expenses go up the district will have to reallocate or “cut” from the services, academic and athletic side of the ledger to cover the increases in operations and benefits. That will have to happen despite adding a few more teachers or giving a 2% cost of living increase. If Beth Leffel or Jim Brinkmeire is your SB rep, CALL THEM! They seem to be the only two that that wants to move money away from academics and athletics to meet the level funding. My belief is the SB needs to put an appropriate budget together that meets the needs of the district. Let the BOS figure out how to fund it.
    Don’t take mine or Robina’s word on this; come out to the SB meeting and see for yourself before it’s too late.
    Lastly don’t spend all your free time responding back; enjoy the weekend with your family. See you at the next SB meeting.

    • Tony, I wonder what meetings you attend. I haven’t seen any evidence that ANY SB member wants to take $ from academics or athletics. I see a new group of people working through problems and asking a lot of good questions. Stop stirring conflict where none exists.

      • Tony Parrott says:

        Keeping people informed is not stirring the pot. If people don’t show up to the meetings they don’t know what’s going on and this is important!
        Maybe you missed it at the last SB meeting but I heard “what can we cut next” several times. I’m not saying the new SB members are bad people; I’m saying they are not focused on the right priorities.

  17. Clarke Co Annie says:

    Wait a minute…

    Clarke County Parks and Recreation Department has agreed to re-program $20K of its budget toward the Cool Spring Battlefield Park…right?

    Then, on Page 2 of the BOS 2/21 agenda, #10-2-b:
    Subject: Request for funds from Minor Capital Contingency Fund

    For Parks and Recreation to acquire $6,000 for ADA Accessible Pool Lift from this Contingency Fund.

    To me, this represents either the Park & Recreation is given way too much money to start with or
    they really don’t have that amount of money to allocate to the “Park”.

    If they want to re-program funds send it to the schools. Put those funds where it is needed and not another park!

  18. Why are we spending money on this senior center? Is it because we got some matching funds from the Feds?

    Tony P. hit the nail right on the head when he said that the budget should be written for the needs of the district, not for the BOS. Let the BOS do their slashing in the open, not on the phone with the superintendant.

  19. Wait a Minute says:

    The superintendent writes the budget. Why is he weasling out about it? How in the world can he make statements like this? He doesn’t support his own work? Here we go with another year of schools vs BOS.