The Clarke County School Board spent nearly four hours on Tuesday working with budget numbers and discussing the principles that it hopes to navigate by as it enters its first budget negotiation with a seasoned Board of Supervisors. In terms of school leadership and upcoming budget discussions, the School Board sent an important signal to the community by reaffirming Clarke County Public School Superintendent, Dr. Michael Murphy’s contract to remain the school division chief.
While details of the contract were not immediately available following the 90-minute closed session spent discussing the matter, the School Board voted unanimously to extend Murphy’s contract until 2014.
Murphy was hired in 2008 with an annual salary compensation package of approximately $130,000.
As the School Board reconvened in an open work session the public received its first look at the details of Murphy’s proposed FY13 budget. Joint Administrative Services Director, Tom Judge walked through the budget details for the School Board which includes $26,511,290 in expenditures and $10,602,774 in anticipated revenues.
Judge said that the remaining $15,908,516 not covered by anticipated revenues would be up to the School Board and Board of Supervisors to cover based on the outcome of the final approved budget. This year’s proposed budget includes an increase of $1.1 M which equates to a roughly 6.9 percent increase over last year’s local funding level.
Last night’s budget meeting was attended by Chairman Janet Alger (Russell), Dr. Beth Leffel (Buckmarsh), Jim Brinkmeier (Berryville), and Chip Schutte (White Post). School Board member Barbara Lee (Millwood) attended the closed session on the superintendent’s contract, but was not present for the budget presentation. Of the five School Board members, Brinkmeier and Leffel are participating in the school budget review cycle for the first time. Alger, Lee, and Schutte have all experienced budget deliberations with previous Clarke County School Boards.
This year’s Commonwealth funding contribution contains a mixed bag for Clarke County. While Virginia’s annually adjusted Composite Index, the formula used to determine how much funding the state will contribute to each locality given local prosperity, has resulted in a $500K increase in Commonwealth funding for Clarke, funding failures in Virginia’s state retirement system, as well as increases in health insurance and life insurance costs are expected to cost the school district nearly $850K in the 2013 budget.
Other cost increases, including $100K for the school district’s food service, $426K for utilities at the new high school and a $325K contribution for a proposed County-wide enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, will add further pressure in a year where the County Supervisors have made it known that anything above “flat level funding” is unlikely to gain approval.
Despite the Supervisor’s best hopes for a level funded school budget request, school administrators, staff, public and School Board chairman Janet Alger (Russell) say that after several years of austerity it’s time to increase the school budget.
“Our job is to base our budget on the needs of our students,” Alger said. “School staff has not had a compensation increase in a very long time. I’m in favor of a one to two percent salary increase. We also have to look at staffing needs.”
Superintendent Murphy, who has asked to add or upgrade 22 staff positions at a cost of $961K, said that the final school budget needs to reflect what is important to the community and that lower funding could result in a reduction in force and larger class sizes, something that Murphy said no one wants to see.
“A cost of living adjustment, class size, staffing,” Murphy reflected. “Ultimately we come down to those three items.”
This year’s school budget is projected to increase $141K for each one-percent increase in staff salaries.
New School Board member Jim Brinkmeier (Berryville) said that while he agreed that the budget needed to reflect the needs of the students, the School Board must also acknowledge the financial challenges facing the Board of Supervisors.
“We need to show the Supervisors that we’ve done our due diligence to tighten the budget as much as possible,” Brinkmeier said. “We want our budget to be as lean and mean as possible.”
“We’ve been operating ‘lean and mean’ for three years and have cut $1.2M from our budget,” Murphy replied. “The question is just how ‘lean and mean’ does the School Board want to be? We’ve had a 5% decrease in our student population but a 6% decrease in our budget.”
Murphy said that the question ultimately comes down to whether the community wants class sizes to increase, and if so, by how much.
Murphy said that a range of cost saving measures have already been considered by the schools, including “pay to participate” sports, increasing school facility use fees and cutting class field trips, but such cuts really ultimately don’t make a significant difference in budget savings.
Several County residents joined in last night’s budget discussion on a more specific level in response to rumors that the Johnson Williams Middle School athletic program was under consideration for elimination as a cost saving measure.
Clarke County resident Tony Parrott, who spoke during the public comment period, said that JWMS athletics was an excellent program for students and asked the School Board to preserve the program. “I view the school budget cycle just like that of a business,” Parrott said. “You have to submit a budget that is going to meet the needs of the students. It’s the School Board’s responsibility to make the Supervisors understand the impact of budget cuts what that really mean to the kids of this county.”
JWMS Athletic Booster president Lisa Dale said that middle school sports are a “big deal” to youngsters, especially those that may not go on to compete at the high school level. Dale said that her son had learned more from athletics than from some his advanced classes.
“Middle school sports has helped my son learn how to lose,” Dale said. “I know that may sound a little strange but the middle school sports program is teaching him that if he doesn’t give his individual best it hurts his team. The middle school sports program has made my son such a different individual. It would be a shame if other kids can’t have the same opportunity.”
A public hearing on the school budget is scheduled for February 13th.