Supervisors Tighten Reins on School Surplus Funding

The Clarke Supervisors told the School Board on Tuesday to limit spending for the new high school to $33.2M and to not incur any additional debt until 2017. The move releases enough spending authority for construction and furnishing of the new high school to go forward but at the same time places reserve hold against the $7.2 M of surplus funds. The Supervisors also directed that the School Board develop a list of funding priorities for future projects but stipulated that no project go forward without the Supervisor’s approval.

“The list of funding priorities should only use currently available funds and not use additional debt service prior to 2017” John Staelin said in a motion that was unanimously approved by the Supervisors.

Supervisor Chairman Michael Hobert said that there needs to be a thoughtful review of how the surplus funds can best be used to support education in Clarke County.

Clarke County's School Board must decide on how to spend $7.2M of surplus funding.

“We need an evaluation of the surplus because the funds belong to the community. That evaluation must include a full and frank conversation about the use of the funds” Hobert said.

“We’re ready to have that conversation” Murphy replied.

At issue are two funding sources; a $3.67M cash fund that was generated over a  number of years as the Board of Supervisors annually set aside approximately$500K for school  construction and an additional $3.46M in Virginia Public School Authority bond funds.

The $3.76M cash fund is controlled solely by the Board of Supervisors and does not necessarily have to be used for school or education purposes. The $3.46M VPSA bond funding, by law, can only be used for school construction or renovation.

While yesterday’s budget directive falls within the normal fiduciary responsibilities of Virginia county supervisor oversight, there appears to be some concern on the part of the Supervisors about the fiscal responsibility of the School Board.

“The $7.1M windfall is an opportunity for us to not raise people’s taxes” said Supervisor David Weiss (Buckmarsh). “We need to utilize the money only to meet the deficiencies in the old schools.”

Supervisor Barbara Byrd (Russell) said that each of the School Board members have their own areas that they would like to spend on. “We just can’t do that” Byrd lamented.

“That’s because a couple of them don’t have any business experience” another supervisor replied.

Chairman Michael Hobert questioned the initiative forwarded by the School Board to spend money for excess classroom space in light of projected flat-line population demographics. Hobert cited recent statements by CCHS Principal Dr. John Werner. “The high school principal says that he doesn’t need the eight additional classrooms” Hobert said.

Supervisor John Staelin (Millwood), who introduced the spending constraint resolution earlier in the day, re-emphasized his desire to follow a well-designed set of budget priorities.

“We need the capital spending priorities as soon as possible and before commencing any new projects” Staelin said.

Supervisor David Weiss (Buckmarsh) echoed Staelin’s position.“We don’t want to go down the path where they want to “spend it” and we want to “hold it” Supervisory Weiss said. “We need to spend appropriately.”

While the tone of yesterday’s discussion was cautionary, it was also clear that the Supervisors hope to avoid the adversarial position that characterized previous relationships between the School Board and the Board of Supervisors.

“It’s very important to maintain a close working relationship with the School Board” Supervisor Byrd said. “We need to try very hard to keep our lines of communication open.’

The new financial directive issued yesterday stems, in part, from a growing debate surrounding the surplus funds. There have been a number of discussions and suggestions by both school board members and by school staff related to how the surplus schools funds can best be used. Because the $3.46M VPSA funds are mandated for school construction by law, there has been little disagreement that those funds should be used to renovate existing school buildings.

The non-VPSA funding has elicited a different discussion.

Because spending, or not spending, the $3.76M cash fund can occur at the sole discretion of the Supervisors, many have come to see the money as the potential solution to a host of individual budget priorities. For example, concerns that the separation of agriculture students from the main school campus will weaken the agriculture program could be solved through use of the funds; Re-introduction of a greenhouse into the school design could be accommodated; School employee salary raises, which have been stagnant for several years, has been suggested as an appropriate use for a portion of the funding.

Perhaps the biggest financial divergence between the Supervisors and the School Board is the Supervisor’s reigning in the School Board’s informal plan to add eight apparently unnecessary classrooms to the new high school. Doing away with the modification, totaling 10,000 square feet of space, will alone generate savings of approximately $1.5M based on the estimated construction cost of $150 per square foot.

The Board of Supervisor’s statement that it intends to be an active participant in future School Board decisions, at the very least, signals a change of course for future education funding decisions in Clarke County.

Other County Budget News

Regional Bail Budget Mix-up

Clarke County’s FY 2011 budget line item for the regional jail had to be unexpectedly increased by $55K on Tuesday to cover Clarke County’s share of the debt service for the facility. Several supervisors criticized the informal nature of the regional jail’s budget communication process. In approving the additional funds the Supervisors also requested that the regional jail “formally inform the Clarke County Board of Supervisors in writing of its total budget commitment during the annual budget process” in the future.

Sheriff’s Grant

The Clarke County Sheriff’s Office has received $40k in a federal Department of Homeland Security grant funding for laptops, phones and other emergency operations center equipment. The grant requires a dollar-per-dollar local match of either cash or “in-kind” contribution. The Sheriff’s Office has elected to provide installation services for the equipment which will be counted as its “in-kind” contribution.

Cooperative Extension

A new horticulture agent hired by Frederick County will mean additional extension agent hours for Clarke County under a county resource sharing arrangement. The Clarke County Supervisors allocated an additional $1,835 to cover the Cooperative Extension budget shortfall.

Opus Oaks Art Grant

Opus Oaks, a Clarke County art school, provides an avenue for  pre-school, school-age,  and adults  to learn and explore the world of art while developing their talent. A larger-than-expected matching grant from the Virginia Commission on the Arts to Opus Oaks prompted the Board of Supervisors to allocate an additional $3,000 in support of the program.

Comments

  1. Travis Goodwin says:

    “…only to meet the deficiencies in the old schools”? Really? The plan to shuttle several dozen Ag students back and forth over a mile round trip each day is not a deficiency? Wanting to make sure the new CCHS gets it right from the start, with the right facilities to support the theatre arts, Voc-Ag classes, and the like is not a worthy goal? Yes, the other buildings, and the Central Office (the 2-bedroom house with a trailer attached to it) have deficiencies.

    The extra classroom space IS needed. If the common areas (except the auditorium) are being built for 1,000 students from the start, then why not have the classroom capacity set for that target number from the start? Building a new CCHS for an enrollment only 40 students more than what is currently there is shortsighted. Just look west, to Frederick County. James Wood HS, Sherando HS, and the much-ballyhooed Millbrook HS all were built smaller than they should have been – and all needed trailers within a couple years of opening. Recall our own current CCHS? Built too small, and overcrowded when it opened. Build the space now: put in large enough HVAC systems, cabling for computers/phone/intercoms, lighting. Air ducts can be closed off until they’re needed, but at least the infrastructure and space will be there when it’s needed.

    Those county funds were raised for school construction costs, and have been earning the county interest all these years. It is alright to expect a CIP, but those funds were raised expressly for school construction. To hedge on that now, when dirt is beginning to move on that school construction, is unfortunate.

    • Sounds familiar

      “Jim says:
      July 16, 2010 at 9:38 pm
      [redacted] I would say it’s too small, and in 5 years after a housing recovery, and more sub-d’s added in Berryville, and hundreds of families move to Berryville to be in “the country” enrollment will in fact be up, because it never goes down permanently, no matter what town you’re talking about.

      • Right Winger says:

        Love Canal comes to mind. And that PA town that sits on a still burning coal mine too.

  2. Right Winger says:

    I told you this was gonna happen.

  3. clarkehaven says:

    HOOO-RAY!!!!!

    Finally government officials at some level have shown fiscal responsibility!

    As far as future growth and the “subdividing” of Clarke goes…..I am sorry to be the one to tell you BUT….The housing boom is NOT coming back! Congress made sure of that this week.

    At a time when the entire nation is on the verge of bankruptcy and I would like to thank the supervisors for doing what is TRULY right for our(my) children.

  4. Concerned says:

    I applaud the supervisors on their stand of responsibly using the excess funds. What totally stands out is that an overwelmingly agricultural community is considering not having an agriculture and horticulture set up at this school. As you drive through our beautiful county with the rolling farmland, do some people think it just sits there taking care of itself? To survive in our present circumstances future farmers need as much education as possible to survive. It’s not a bunch of students in the Ag and Horticulture Departments taking courses because they have to. These students elect to learn a skill which feeds every one of us at some point in time, they learn how to plan for the future, and how to do the bookeeping needed to make any business successful. Having a firsthand knowledge of this program, I have also seen in the last several years students with non-agricultural backgrounds become involved in this program and shine! I have been to several local and regional meetings where the topic has been how to integrate our new residents from urban areas with the agricultural aspects of our area. Well, I can tell you how to definitely hurt that effort… Separate our Ag and Horticulture students from the rest of the school population!!! Send them to an elementary school, spend $20000 or more a year getting them there and deal with tardies, lunch breaks, and special events. Please educate our children for the future! We need farmers, veterinarians, extension agents, soil scientists, produce providers, and teachers for our future generations. We need an Agriculture Department with a greenhouse at our new school, not a facility a half mile away to eat up more of our funds on property which may be needed in the future by the county.

    • Fact Checker says:

      Concerned, I’m not sure which point you are trying to make. At first you applaud the Supervisors for not spending money. Next, you are bothered by the results-i.e. that additional money will not be spent to merge the Ag/Horticulture classes to the new campus. Huh??

    • Lonnie Bishop says:

      Exactly. Concerned, you’re talking out of both sides of your mouth. The supervisors made it clear that they’re not inclined to beef up the inferior-in-its-initial-iteration set of plans. I do agree with you – it is stupidity masquerading as frugality to truck these students to the former Ag facilities. Get it right, folks – build the best high school we can, and have the best facility to support the arts, the Voc-Ag program, and all on the same site. We have the funds. Let’s not quibble.

  5. Concerned says:

    So sorry it was taken in the wrong context, an example would be when I buy a new car I know what necessities should be included….but I don’t need to buy a Mercedes if I can’t afford it. The children in the library will be looking at computer screens which come up out of the table, and the Ag and Horticulture kids will be getting on the bus???? I just don’t think that is best for these two departments and would really like to see them there with a curriculum that will benefit students interested in all levels of Agriculture.

  6. Debacle Watcher says:

    Our Supervisors are doublespeaking again. They have been blaiming our tax increases on the schools while hording the excess money on the guise that is for school construction. Now, they are telling the schools they can’t have it. It appears they have learned the Washington antics of blaiming Peter and paying Paul! With just over a year till their elections, let’s all remember this deception.

  7. Phil Trayer says:

    There are operational costs associated with hiring a full time driver. These include the driver’s health insurance, VRS, and FICA. Add to that, fuel for the bus and depreciation on the transportation equipment. If these costs are more than the debt service required to build the million and a half dollar addition (assuming 4% interest over 30 years it equals approximately $87K per year) then it makes sense to build. The equipment to build the Agricultural addition is, or will be, on site so it will never be cheaper to build it then right now. I don’t pretend to have the exact numbers but I think Tom Judge’s office needs to provide an analysis for the Supervisors, the School Board and most importantly the public. Finally, once the annual cost differential is complete, then a discussion has to take place concerning the value associated with the operational disruption at the high school in transporting the students back & forth. While there may not be an obvious dollar cost, there most certainly is a cost to the students and staff.

    • Fact Checker says:

      Not to mention the lost instruction time while doing the hustle between sites.