Student Holiday Cheer Brightens Gloomy School Budget Outlook

As Clarke County Schools finish 2010 with the long-sought accomplishment of moving the new high school from the drawing board to the building site, Clarke County Public Schools superintendent Dr. Michael Murphy said this week that new challenges are on the horizon for the coming year.

Although the last few weeks of bitterly cold weather have slowed work at the new high school construction site so far the project is ahead of schedule and below budget thanks, in part, to a change order initiated by the builder, Howard Shockey and Sons. On Monday evening the school board approved switching from copper wire to aluminum to offset a doubling in the price of copper since the school construction contract was bid. The change will save Clarke County taxpayers $46K.

Any revenue savings will come in handy as the school district does its best to deal with the financial impacts of having 100 fewer students enrolled this year over last year. The drop in student enrollment means that the Commonwealth’s “per student” contribution of $2,999 could result in a reduction of nearly $300K to CCPS in the coming year.

Personnel costs make up approximately 85% of the school district’s budget.

“The student decrease is going to cause some pain when it comes to budgeting,” Murphy said. “We’re looking at a staff reductions because we just aren’t going to be able to keep everyone on the payroll. We probably will not be able to avoid a reduction in force this year.”

Supervisor John Staelin (Millwood) said that the student census reduction is part of a cycle that school systems across the country have to regularly deal with. “It’s important to explain the ‘baby boom’ and ‘baby bust’ cycle,” Staelin commented in response to Murphy’s reduction in force possibility. ”If you have five percent fewer students certain costs are fixed and other costs are variable. It’s due to a natural cycle that occurs every twenty years or so.”

Clarke County High School choral director Dr. Ryan Keebaugh and choir performed at Monday's Clarke County school board meeting - photo Edward Leonard

But while financial dark clouds may loom on the school district’s horizon, Monday’s school board meeting was brightened by the students that it serves.

Student school board member Adam King presented news that Clarke students are actively working to make our community a better place, especially over the holidays. King said that the Future Farmers of America has organized a very successful food drive for the needy people in Clarke County. King followed by saying that the SCA and JWMS Parent Teacher Organization is sponsoring a “giving tree” designed to deliver holiday joy to a needy Clarke County family.

The school board and citizens was then treated to a trio of holiday songs delivered by the Clarke County High School choir directed by Dr. Ryan Keebaugh. “Carol of the Bells,” “Lo How a Rose is Blooming,” and Billy Joel’s, “For the Longest Time” with vocal lead by senior Warren Campbell. Keebaugh says that the choir hopes to release a CD of selections in the Spring of 2011.


  1. The suggestion to switch from copper to aluminum wiring is very ill advised and will potentially expose our children to a higher risk environment due to the issues with aluminum wiring “creep” and corrosion that leads to fire hazards. Aluminum wiring can be safely used in some “single use” applications but to switch the wiring of the entire school to aluminum would be highly irresponsible. I am actually surprised the code will even allow it!
    Beyond the risk to our children, as if that shouldn’t be enough in itself, I would think the first litigation for the first failure of the aluminum will easily exceed the 46k that they hope to save. Surely there are corners that can be cut that don’t put our children at risk. And even if the fire happens in the middle of the night and nobody is there, then we have no high school or at least a mess to fix…and probably the cost of replacing all the wiring after the lawsuit.
    I would replace any aluminum wiring if I found it in my house and I definately would never put it in new construction.
    But don’t take my word for it…see:

    • To all – a point of clarification

      Russ is accurate to a certain extent only.

      First of all, the aluminum will not be used for the entirely of the electrical installation, but only for feeders size 3 and larger. Other wiring will remain copper.

      Secondly, the link to which we were referred by Russ, clearly states that aluminum is perfectly safe WHEN PROPERLY INSTALLED. For this reason, after consultation with our engineers, we obtained that the manufacturer of the wiring ALCAN, will be present at the installation of the aluminum wiring portion, that they also must give a 5-year warranty instead of the usual 1-year, and that the installers Bertstrom must come back every year to inspect the installation and repair any potential deficiencies that may occur. Proper installation is indeed vital and we have taken measures to ensure that it will be done properly. Both the manufacturers and the installers have accepted these conditions. Like everything else, aluminum wiring has made considerable progress since the 1970s.

      Please also note that as part of our Commissioning contract with Gannett-Fleming, they are also overseeing the installation of all electrical wiring.

      The overall wiring of the school, whether copper or aluminum, is sufficient to handle all loads as designed. So yes, not to worry about the musicals or bluegrass concerts.


  2. Fly on the wall says:

    I’m sure that Shockey & Co. know what they’re doing, but…will aluminum wiring handle the load generated in the auditorium during a musical, or a bluegrass concert (all of the lights & the sound system, etc.)? All of the computers?