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Joint meeting nets 2-percent raises for school employees

The King George School Board’s primary goal last week was to ask for and receive a promise for additional funding from the county to enable it to grant its employees 2-percent raises retroactive to January.

They got it.

But it’s not a blank check and at the meeting on Jan. 31, the Board of Supervisors made it clear that the amount of additional funding to be appropriated cannot exceed $150,000, which would also provide a small cushion to cover the School Board’s current projected shortfall of about $137,000 for 2011-12, which includes the mid-year pay increase.

The joint meeting was requested by Supervisors to discuss the School Board’s budget problems

for the current fiscal year and to also hear about the division’s preliminary proposal for next year’s 2012-13 funding request.

For the most part, a new tone of cordiality and cooperation was exhibited by members of the School Board, which matched that of Supervisors. In the past, especially with the last school board, the atmosphere at joint meetings had often been accusatory and confrontational.

~ FINANCES FOR 2011-12    The meeting began with a financial report by Donita Harper, deputy county administrator/director of finance. She noted that her figures indicated a current projected year-end budget deficit of $339,835 for the School Board.

The report was based on actual expenditure and revenue numbers through the end of December, with month-by-month projections for the rest of the year based on current budgeted programs and positions combined with historical spending trends from previous years.

The School Board’s current budget woes are primarily due to lower enrollment than anticipated and on which the budget was based. State revenue was budgeted by the School Board on an average daily membership (ADM) of 4,165, with local revenue based on a more conservative number of 4,150 students. Both numbers appear to have been too high, with interim superintendent Stanley Jones currently projecting an ADM of 4,070 students, while the state is using a lower number for the county of 4,058.

All the figures make for a confusing number-salad which will become more and more clarified each month, and with the ADM number being recalculated by the state in April from March 31 numbers. The upshot is that $337,000 less is expected from the state, though the shortfall could be more.

Supervisors committed to not decrease the county funding to the School Board by $216,000, which is the amount the state says the county may reduce it to account for fewer students.

School Board chairman, Mike Rose, talked about some of the other reasons for the shortfall. He noted there were some unbudgeted expenditures for installation of scoreboards at Hunter Field and some high school practice fields, along with emergency replacement of the alarm system at Potomac Elementary that all added up to $22,000.

He also related other overruns for transportation costs, special education purchased services and some operating funds toward roof repair at the School Board office.

Rose said with some additional funding expected from state and federal sources, it all added up to a shortfall of about $137,000 needed to go toward the 2-percent raise, estimated at about $216,000, which is in the budget but not currently fully-funded, due to the unanticipated expenditures.

Rose next began by suggesting Supervisors might shift $150,000 from the county capital fund to the division’s operating budget to make up its shortfall. That money is earmarked for well repair at the School Board-owned former middle school, which is not in use by the division and was ceremoniously closed in June 2009.

In the meantime, the school was leased to the Smoot Library last summer for two years while the existing library undergoes a long-planned expansion and renovation project.

Rose stated that the previous School Board had asked for funding to reopen the school as an intermediate school, which was turned down at the time by Supervisors.

Supervisor Dale Sisson noted the idea was rejected because the division has excess student capacity as a result of building a new 1,700 seat high school. The high school currently has fewer than 1,300 students. Sisson said, “And the enrollment numbers aren’t going to increase any time soon, certainly not to the point to overcome the capacity added to the new high school.”

Supervisor Joe Grzeika dismissed the idea of using capital money to fund the operating budget, saying, “It’s one-time money, it’s a capital one-time expense. Taking capital money and putting it into the operating budget just doesn’t work.” He added, “You’ve got to figure out if you have a need for that old middle school.” He noted that the county does have current needs for additional office space to house Social Services, Extension and the Health Department.

But School Board member Rick Randall said they wanted a commitment for future renovations and possible addition to the school, adding, “We want to know what kind of check you guys are willing to write.” He added, “We want to avoid having to build a brand new school.”

Grzeika, added, “What is the best use for that old middle school? Do you have a pressing need?”
He also added, “It’s one of those things that we can’t tell you what to do with that school.”
But Rose conceded, “We need to go back and take a look at it and decide.”

Supervisors stressed to the School Board that they needed to more closely track ADM and applauded them for actually looking at their first finance reports.

School Board member John Davis said, “We know we’ve got to keep looking at it.”

Grzeika said, “I’m encouraged that you’re really doing it. We get this read-out every month, every month. So I think we’ve been looking at your budget closer than past school boards have. I think that’s a good thing that you guys have started this. And it’s the only way you’re going to gain the insight to figure out where the savings are.”

Sisson said, “The more that I know that you’re digging into your budget and working these things out, the more I can be in tune with you as we talk about these kinds of issues.” He added, “So we know that you’re providing this level of scrutiny then it puts us in a much better position to be able to help you out.”

Rose stated, “I personally just want to give those teachers their raises.”

Sisson said, “I think our board really wants to try to be consistent all across the county.” Supervisors recently gave the go-ahead to proceed with mid-year raises for county, Service Authority, and Constitutional office employees.

Grzeika said, “I feel that right now we really ought to be looking at how we find this money to help them out, especially given the fact that they are scrubbing the budget.  Because that means everything to me, because it’s been hard to take them serious, when we knew that they didn’t even know what was in their budget.”

The previous School Board had Renee Parker, Dennis Paulsen and Lynn Pardee who went out of office at the end of December, along with long-time former Superintendent Candace Brown. It has already been publicly stated by Rose that he and Randall along with those previous members had not received regular finance reports. They asked for them, but were put off and left in the dark by Brown, as the previous majority on their board preferred. 

Grzeika also stated, “But I want to see you really buckle down and continue through this process. You’re not done.  And find the rest of this money, so it comes back and we’ll have it as a surplus item in your budget at the end of the year to help us get through next year, because you guys are going to be in extremis for next year, as well.”

John LoBuglio said he was willing for the board to help them. Grzeika clarified, “I think $150,000 is where we’re at. And the $200K+ that we’re leaving in is almost $400,000, which is a chunk of change. And I think giving you that, you know what you’ve got to work with, and you’ve got to work hard.”

Chairman Cedell Brooks said, “Sounds good, if we can make it work.” Sisson agreed, saying, “If that’s the order of magnitude, I’m good with that.” Supervisor Ruby Brabo also agreed, and suggested they also make an effort to lower their electric bills by not over-air conditioning during hot weather to require jackets be worn.

Grzeika said, “I think that what we ought to do is earmark $150K out of our general fund balance and that gives them something that they can do to give their raise.”

That discussion ended with Rose saying, “Did we answer your questions?” Grzeika responded, “I take it as a work in progress.”

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