To combat a crippling and volatile economy, since 2009 city schools have cut 25 positions and services that equal 2.14 percent of the general fund. This year, the school division is faced with an estimated deficit of about $4.3 million. Among some of the proposed reductions is the elimination of two assistant principal positions at the middle school level and an increase in tuition for students who reside outside the city.
A look at the numbers
If Rob Bell bill passes:
Proposed city funding
In order to avoid eliminating additional personnel or closing a school, as was previously considered, the school division is set to ask City Council for $3.37 million in funding for next year. Some of that money includes $1.5 million in one-time funds and an additional funding request of $1.1 million. If the city funds the majority of the request, closing a school would not be necessary. Last year, city schools received an additional $1 million from the city.
While some board members believe that using the one-time money could give them time to make better decisions, others said postponing the inevitable would not solve the problem.
“I really worry about the one-time money and that we are essentially just kicking the can down the road because I don’t see things improving next year,” School Board Chair Ned Michie said at the board’s meeting last Thursday. “As soon as we pass this budget, because of the one-time money we are going to be using, I think we need to start talking about the budget for the following year and working through more painful cuts.”
New school board member Jennifer McKeever is concerned about putting the burden on the city.
“I am also uncomfortable asking for $2.6 million given that the city is in a pretty significant deficit themselves,” she said.
The one-time funds were originally dedicated to renovations associated with the reconfiguration of Walker Upper Elementary and Buford Middle schools. The $1.5 million could be transferred to the general fund and help close the gap.
“I would like to see us commit to Buford and to the renovations at Buford,” said McKeever.
Yet, the volatile financial environment and a piece of legislation could change the ultimate outcome. Because the city is facing a $1 million shortfall of its own, the funding request is not certain. Additionally, if Delegate Rob Bell’s bill to amend the state’s funding formula passes, it could add another $2.5 million to the shortfall.
Assistant principals on the chopping block
In addition to about $1 million in reductions presented by School Superintendent Rosa Atkins earlier in the budget process, which include the elimination of two Instructional Assistants at Walker, on Thursday night the board considered $328,000 in additional cuts that included cutting two assistant principal positions from Walker and Buford for a total saving of $190,000.
Dot Walton, a special education resource teacher at Walker, told C-VILLE that losing an assistant principal at her school would be detrimental.
“We are getting pre-adolescence kids, they are coming in with issues as well. It’s a struggle for us to have to lose one of those people, because their work is vital and we depend on them,” she said.
Board member Colette Blount believes that the most difficult part of the budget process is maintaining staff morale, and for some teachers, the negative financial outlook and the actions of the General Assembly have already taken an emotional toll.
“It’s kind of demoralizing to be a teacher nowadays because you have the General Assembly that won’t fund education, they’ll take money from the General Fund to pay for transportation,” said Walton. “We’ve been cut and now teachers are asked to do more in the classroom, we are being evaluated on student performance. There are just a lot of things that are, I think, bringing down most of the teachers and people who work in the school system.”
Although hopeful, Blount acknowledges the burden additional cuts will have on families.
“I think we’ll come through this, but I know on the human side of it, we are talking about the potential for people’s income to be severely impacted and that’s never an easy task,” she said in an interview. “It is unfair.” The reduction would leave Walker and Buford with two assistant principals each.
Other possible reductions include reducing custodial overtime for a savings of $50,000; cutting two elementary school assistant principals’ time from 12 months to 10.5 months for a savings of about $30,000; and increasing tuition for non-residents by $100 for an additional $19,000 in revenue.
The school board will meet on February 23 for a budget work session and is slated to present the adopted budget to City Council on March 5.