Host of alternative school budget cuts up for review

The School Board reviewed a number of cost-cutting alternatives last week as work on next year’s school system budget continued.

School Board Chairman David Wyman said he wanted the Feb. 2 session to be an open forum. The board met in the public meeting room for a televised session to “provide added transparency, in terms of what we’re doing here with the budget,” he said. The school system has also tried to provide detailed budget information online, he said.

During a brief review of Superintendent Marcus Newsome’s proposed budget, which includes roughly $26.4 million in cuts and the loss of 304 jobs, T. David Myers, assistant superintendent for business and finance, pointed out that the proposed budget cuts were listed by dollar amount, not priority.

If the board is going to discuss cutting transportation to Center-Based Gifted programs and specialty centers, it needs to do so openly, Vice Chairman Marshall Trammell said. Eliminating the transportation is among the roughly $16.5 million in cuts that will be implemented if the school system does not receive more funding.

If the division stops bussing students to the programs, School Board Attorney Michael Packer said, “then we have to be concerned about the impact it would have on students who wouldn’t be able to participate because of a lack of transportation.”

The school division does not want to offer programs that only students from more affluent families can access, said Edward Pruden, assistant superintendent for instruction and administration. But, there is nothing on either list of cuts that the school division isn’t prepared to implement, Myers said.

Midlothian District Member Patricia Carpenter said a large concern was that the schools had been using “scare tactics,” and she wanted to make sure “we had things on the list that were genuine items we were prepared to eliminate.”

Near the end of the session, Myers presented the results of a staff survey that asked respondents to pick a total of $40 million in cuts from three areas.

“We got a tremendous amount of feedback,” he said.

Implementing a four-day school week “came up a lot” in responses, Myers said. Though the staff will continue to research and evaluate the suggestion, it’s not recommended for next year, he said, calling it “a very significant change for a community.”

Respondents also sent in a host of other suggestions, Myers said. One was closing the school system during July, and “I think that’s worth discussing,” he said. But, one of the problems with that would be not having the facilities available to the public for such a long period of time.

Newsome said there was a considerable about of discussion about having employees pay 4 percent of their VRS contribution instead of taking a pay cut, but doing so would have cut only about $2 million from the budget.

Also among the 67 listed alternative cost reductions were: eliminating vehicle allowances, eliminating additional central office staffing, reducing the number of instructional specialists, closing the school system during spring break and eliminating the Virginia Preschool Initiative program.

Trammell said some members of the General Assembly were already targeting the preschool program for cuts, and he didn’t think the county could afford to pick up the state’s share of its cost.

“This is something I think you need to keep your eye on the ball for,” he said.

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