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Without help, jobs in jeopardy in Halifax County schools

Halifax County School Board members got their first look at the 2012-2013 budget proposal Thursday night, and it’s not a pretty picture as they face about a $2 million deficit or what could mean the loss of roughly 30 jobs.

Chief Financial Officer Bill Covington laid out the budget outline to board members at this year’s first budget work session held Thursday in the school board conference room.

According to Covington, the only budget information available is the governor’s figures, which board members had already received, and that does not look promising.

“If we don’t get some relief in this area, we’re in for some big trouble,” said ED-5 trustee Roger Long.

“That’s what I’m saying. The big trouble in Halifax County is over $2 million,” said Covington.

For the past four years the school system has cut in every single area trying to avoid cutting personnel, that is until last year when the school system had no choice but to affect people’s jobs.

At this point, Covington said, “We have no areas left to cut but personnel.”

Calculating savings from possible retirees, the school system is looking at saving $400,000, but Covington pointed out that is still a long way away from filling a $2 million gap.

“I hope we’re going to get a lot more who retire,” added Covington.

The budget gap amounts to about 30 positions that may be lost within the school system, he said.

“We still have other versions to look at…but the governor’s budget doesn’t leave a pretty picture,” said Covington.

In other areas, Covington reviewed bus fleet information, fuel costs, textbook adoptions and health insurance.

According to the information provided by Covington, the most miles on one bus is 244,000, and two buses are 21 years or older.

The current budgeted amount for diesel fuel at $4 per gallon is $850,000 for the year, and the board will have to decide if they want to keep the $4 or raise the amount due to projected rising gas prices, he said.

Although this is the year for adopting new reading, English and science textbooks, Covington said the textbook department has agreed this adoption may be delayed for a short while.

Covington presented figures that forecast a 10 percent rate increase for employees’ health insurance benefits.

“The county had a 16 percent increase…there will be a rate increase, how big is it going to be is the question?” said Covington.

The chief financial officer further discussed changes dealing with the Virginia Retirement System. The possibility exists for the state to mandate a 5 percent increase for employees. In that event, Covington suggested the school board may want to consider phasing in a one percent increase  over each of the next five years to offset paying for employees’ retirement.

Also the three-year capital improvements plan was discussed including several roof replacements at the high school with no state money set aside for repairs.

“The school system is a big business. We have more floor space than anywhere in the county, more employees than anyone in the county…and the largest restaurant in the county,” Covington said.

At the conclusion of the budget work session, members went into closed session where they discussed personnel issues.

When board members emerged, they took no action.