The Clarke County School Board met with the Board of Supervisors last night in a joint work session to review the proposed school budget. With local budget decisions still being clouded because the Commonwealth of Virginia has yet to finalize its education budget, the beleaguered Clarke County Public Schools budget appears safe from further reductions, at least for the moment.
In presenting his proposed budget before both the School Board and the Board of Supervisors, CCPS Superintendent, Dr. Michael Murphy, repeated his recommendation that the school system adopt a more cyclical budget process.
While Murphy’s proposed school budget includes expenditures of $19.4 million, offsetting revenues are expected to only reach $19.1 million. Murphy’s budget proposes to fill the funding gap by using $300K of carryover funds currently controlled by the Board of Supervisors. Murphy reminded the Supervisors that without restoration of the carryover funding the school system will experience a three year reduction of nearly $2.6 million. “You can only throw the bucket in the well so many times before it comes back empty,” Murphy said.
How long the CC Public Schools can sustain continued fiscal strain is anyone’s guess. Murphy’s proposed cuts to reach a “level-funding” budget include “pay-to-participate” fees for sports and drama, elimination of participation in the Mountain View Governor’s School program, and increased teacher loads including more classes per day and teaching outside of specialty. The increased teaching demands will be required even though salaries will not increase under the proposed budget. Murphy said that adoption of the proposed budget will mean that some teachers will not have had a salary increase in more than four years. There is also concern that teachers may have to pickup a portion of health insurance costs under changes proposed by the Virginia Retirement System (VRS).
While the Board of Supervisors was sympathetic to the plight of Clarke County education, Clarke’s financial resources are already stretched very thin. State and county budget cuts to police protection and other social services are anticipated as Virginia tax revenues decline due to the weak economy. Board of Supervisors Chairperson Michael Hobert summed up the problem saying “Carryover funding can be used to fill the gap of what the State is not providing but that’s a problem.” As with budget deliberations at the State level, Hobert and the Board of Supervisors must balance declining revenue sources against community needs as well as satisfy non-discretionary requirements. Hobert reminded the meeting members that debt service on the new high school will increase by nearly $500K next year.
Finance Committee member, John Staelin, signaled that the Board was comfortable adopting Murphy’s budget. “I don’t anticipate recommending anything other than what has been recommended here,” Staelin said, in referencing Murphy’s budget document. The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to formally review the school budget in mid-March.
Although Supervisor support for the current budget will defer some of the pain associated with realignment of school resources, additional future budgetary challenges seem certain. Superintendent Murphy believes that further cost cutting strategies must be considered, including possible outsourcing of school food service operations. Murphy said that he is currently in discussions with Sodexo USA (http://www.sodexousa.com), the leading provider of integrated food and facilities management services, to explore alternative, less costly options for delivering meals to Clarke students.