School Board adopts budget, cuts 325 jobs

The School Board approved a fiscal 2011 budget last week that includes about $56.4 million in cuts and eliminates about 325 jobs.

“It’s been … a long, and I think we’ll all admit, a difficult budget process,” said T. David Myers, assistant superintendent for business and finance. Officials have been working on the spending plan for more than eight months, he said.

The biggest change from the budget approved by the board in February to what was presented at the April 27 meeting was “the size of the dollar amount,” Myers said. The budget dropped roughly $30 million, from $599,996,500 to $569,528,300.

The state cut the school division’s funding “very significantly,” Myers said. State officials tried to mitigate that impact by reducing the amount of money the school division sends back to the state as its contribution to the Virginia Retirement System, he said. Nearly $21 million was cut from the budget to reflect the final actions of the General Assembly, but the school division’s VRS contribution dropped about $19.6 million.

“Of course, that’s a concern as we go forward,” he said. In fiscal 2012, the VRS rate will go up slightly, and the savings will drop to about $16.4 million, he said.  

“This is something that I think the public needs to be really wary about,” School Board Chairman David Wyman said. The VRS savings are “something that could evaporate on us.”

The additional reductions approved last week included most of the “tier two” cuts that were presented in February, except the additional 2 percent pay cut for employees and reduced employee leave payouts. The budget approved in February calls for teachers and employees at grade 43 and below to take a 2 percent pay cut, employees at grade 44 and higher to take a 3 percent cut. Superintendent Marcus Newsome will take a 7 percent pay cut in fiscal 2011.

The original budget eliminated 190 jobs, and the revisions will cut another 135 positions, according to information from the school system.

Another $200,000 will be taken from the fund balance in the revised budget, Myers said, safety net funding will be cut by half, or $780,000, and the textbook replacement fund will be reduced by $506,500.

Matoaca District School Board Member Omarh Rajah said seeing people lose their jobs was one of the hardest things elected officials had to do, and his heart went out to employees who would be laid off.

“But, when you lose 80 million bucks in two years, something has to go,” he said. The School Board “fought like heck” for more money for the school system, he said, but some of those pleas fell on deaf ears.

Several members of the audience addressed the board. Brenda Stewart said the School Board could save millions by immediately discontinuing its locally-funded supplemental retirement program.

Justine Ryan, a senior at Meadowbrook High School, pleaded with the board to save fine arts classes that are at risk because of the cuts.

“Theater saved me, and if you take it away, you’re taking away many lives,” she said.

Before the board’s unanimous approval of the budget revisions, Wyman acknowledged the difficulty of the process.

“But, there’s still a lot out in front of us, folks,” he said. The school system shrank with this round of cuts, he said, but the next round of potential cuts will involve discussions of things like a four-day school week, he said.

“We’re not here to panic people, but we do want to have an honest discussion of what it takes to educate our kids,” Wyman said. “There’s an awful lot at stake in our decisions, not just now, but in the future.”

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