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Already in hole, ‘wish list’ eyed for schools

A $1.4 million gap is facing Halifax County School Board members as they start looking for ways to balance a budget that includes $568,855 less from the state than received last year.

Added to this gap is a $1.8 million “wish list” of items school board members are considering asking the Halifax County Board of Supervisors to fund in the school’s 2013-14 proposed budget.

Superintendent Dr. Merle Herndon, administrators and school board members got their first look at the governor’s proposed budget Monday evening in the school board conference room at the Mary Bethune office complex in Halifax.

“We come to you tonight not knowing everything. Of course it’s going to be a long time before we know everything. But right now we have some things we do know, and it’s time for us to get this process really going,” said Herndon.

Director of Finance Jay Camp informed board members the school system is currently operating with 5,219 students and has a local composite index of 29.43.

The school system starts the arduous budget process looking at a deficit of $1,482,742 knowing the school system will receive $568,855 less in state funding than it got last year, Camp said.

This deficit is based on preliminary figures and is “the best we can figure” at this time, he added. 

Trustees have only seen the governor’s figures and won’t have all the state figures from the House and Senate until mid to late March, said Camp.

“It’s still a lot out there,” said Herndon.

In addition to the state created deficit of $1,482,742, school officials are adding into the money pit an additional $1,823,000 for items deemed necessary including a three percent raise for all employees, 10 new buses, security equipment for schools and other goodies.

“We need to have a pay raise for all employees,” said Herndon. “Keep in mind the governor’s asking for two percent” for teachers.

However, a number of schools employees are not Standards of Quality positions, and board members are considering asking for additional funding to cover these employees as well as adding 1 percent to the governor’s raise.

According to Herndon, the main goal of Monday’s budget work session was to get an idea of what the school board and administrators present to County Finance Director Stephanie Jackson in the form of official budget requests from the school system by the Jan. 15 deadline.

Discussing items included on the list, Herndon said Director of Transportation Dave Guill has indicated no extra special education buses are available in the event one breaks down.

“We know we need buses…got to have buses,” said Herndon.

Completing the lease purchase for the most recent six used buses last year, school officials are asking supervisors to include local funding for 10 new buses beginning another lease purchase agreement over a five year period at an annual cost of $160,000.

Also $180,000 is included to hire three instructional technology resources teachers and another $60,000 to pay an additional librarian.

According to information the superintendent presented to school board representatives, Standards of Quality guidelines require school boards to employ two full-time equivalent positions for every 1,000 students in grades kindergarten through 12, one to provide technology support and one to serve as an instructional technology resource teacher.

These same guidelines also call for two full-time librarians for every 1,000 students, which would force the school system to add a librarian.

Anther item being considered on the wish list is replacing the garage foreman position in the transportation department whose duties are currently being performed by a person who has retired from the school system.

School officials also are looking into hiring a maintenance operations coordinator and taking on the financial responsibility of one resource officer as requested by the sheriff’s office.

“The grant that was paying for it, the grant is gone,” Herndon explained.

A few months ago two members of the Halifax County Sheriff’s Office, two members of the South Boston Police Department, Herndon and Director of Secondary Education/Accountability Frosty Owens attended a seminar in Charlottesville on violence.

Herndon said on Jan. 15 several members of the school administration and sheriff’s office will be going to each school to perform security checks.

“Some of our schools have video cameras at the doors, and some have scan cards,” said Herndon.

Two items the school administration is looking into purchasing are video intercom remote access and scan cards for staff. This security equipment could cost $100,000, she estimated.

New software for a professional development management system and subfinder software are included on the wish list.

“I’m wondering if the governor isn’t going to come up with some money to have security, because right now, nope, we don’t have any,” said Herndon. “I think as a minimum we have to be looking at security equipment we need.” 

Other pending changes that may affect the 2013-14 school budget include reductions and increases in pay for certain school employees.

According to Herndon, several employees were credited with more years of experience than they actually had when they began working for the school system resulting in some individuals being paid more and others being paid less.

“Some people are more than likely going to see a pay change,” said Herndon. “But on the same token, there are going to be some people to make more money.” 

The changes wouldn’t be seen this school year, she added. 

After discussing the $1.8 million list of items for consideration, ED-3 trustee Kimberly Farson expressed concern about presenting such a budget request to supervisors.

“After looking at this, this is like a wish list. I don’t really know if I want to go to the…I mean I would feel more comfortable if we just kind of scaled this down a bit. As a board member, I don’t really want to go to the board of supervisors with an additional $1.8 (million),” said Farson.

Herndon told board members the list of items is a complete budget request. In other words, “If we want it, we’ve got to ask for it before Jan. 15, and then we’ll go from there.”

ED-7 trustee R. K. “Dick” Stoneman suggested no more than two school board members work with Herndon and Camp as liaisons on the budget during the budget process.

Board members plan to vote on his suggestion at their regular scheduled board meeting Monday night.

 “I think we’re at a good starting point,” said ED-5 trustee Roger Long.

Absent from the work session Monday evening was ED-8 trustee Walter Potts.

The school board is scheduled to meet with the board of supervisors on Jan. 25 during the supervisors’ annual strategic planning session.