The Clarke County Public School budget challenge for 2011 is so severe that no school program is beyond consideration. School administration officials are seeking to offset approximately $1 million in lost funding from Virginia’s education fund. Virginia’s statewide K-12 programs could lose $1.2 billion resulting in a state-wide reduction in force of teachers, elimination of school sponsored sports and other direct impacts on student educational programs.
“The budget cuts that we are anticipating will come at a cost to students,” said Superintendent Dr. Michael Murphy. “A $1 million reduction in an $18 million budget, where 85% of costs are attributed to direct personnel, will almost certainly mean a reduction in force (RIF) of the teaching staff.” While Murphy believes that teacher layoffs are the worst possible option, previous budget reductions have stretched the school system to perilous levels. CCPS have suffered $2.8 million in budget cuts over the past three years.
“Citizens need to realize that CCPS are facing cuts from the state education budget,” said school board member Jennifer Welliver (Berryville). “People should protest this in Richmond, not with us. Here at the local level we’re struggling to do something with nothing.” Janet Alger (Russell) concurred, “We have to make hard decisions about a budget where there are no good choices.”
Dr. Murphy itemized a number of budget cuts that will be considered before firing teachers, but all of the School Board’s alternatives will directly impact students. “We’re looking for $100K from across our five buildings in supplies and operating costs, $50K in direct program cuts, $345K from not replacing retirees and resignations and an additional $68K savings from withdrawal from Mountain Vista Governor’s School,” Murphy said. School administration will also seek to have approximately $500K of 2009 carry-over funds applied to the FY2011 budget.
Even remedial English and remedial math courses may be dropped as teachers may be required to teach two – three subject areas.
This year’s budget uncertainties have been compounded by several factors. First, incoming Governor Bob McDonnell has delayed release of an updated education budget forcing school officials to work from the previous Kaine administration budget. The Kaine budget will almost certainly be revised but no timetable has been established. Second, the Kaine budget proposes deferral of Virginia’s Local Composite Index (LCI) allocation. Deferral of the LCI would cost CCPS and additional $1 million in state funding for each year of the freeze.
Jennifer Welliver said that she didn’t see how the School Board would be able to cut remedial programs and still justify funding for sports programs. Emily Rhodes (Buckmarsh) agreed, “We have to protect our Pre-K-12 core academics at all costs. We will have to consider pay-to-particpate for programs like drama and sports.” Dr. Murphy added that transportation for sports programs carries an annual price tag of $60K while band transportation adds an additional $20K.
Murphy characterized the budget process as a series of decisions about what Clarke County values for its children. “We are facing questions of values and choices, how we get the state to support budget recommendations that will do the least amount of harm to the CCPS system,” Murphy said.
Barbara Lee (Millwood) added that the School Board may call on the community to raise funding for special programs like IB classes.
The School Board has scheduled a public hearing for February 16th to consider the school budget. The public hearing will be held in the high school library in order to accommodate the anticipated large turnout.