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School budget gap narrows to $1 million

Halifax County School Board faces another difficult budget year as they work to narrow a $1 million gap between revenues and expenses in the proposed 2013-14 school year budget.

Expenses that include a 2 percent raise for all school employees total $57,841,956, and revenues amount to $56,953,630, coming up short by $888,326.

With a nearly $1 million deficit, now comes talk of cutting positions.

According to figures provided by Superintendent Dr. Merle Herndon, the state is funding $33,251,861 in the upcoming budget, $461,121 less than in the current year.

Of the state funding, $416,612 has been earmarked for providing 2 percent raises for Standards of Quality positions.

School board members are seeking an additional $308,961 from the county to provide 2 percent raises for all other positions in the school system so that all employees will receive across the board raises.

The cost for providing a 2 percent raise for all school employees totals $725,573, Herndon told school board members Thursday evening.

“If we don’t give two percent, we will lose 70 percent state matching money.  This is a one-time opportunity,” she added.

In addition to matching funds for salary hikes, school board members are requesting the county provide level funding of $13,256,000 as in the current year along with making up the $888,326 budget gap.

(The deficit includes a state funding shortage of $461,121, 2 percent local match for governor’s SOQ raises totaling $308,961 and increased expenses of $118,244.)

They also are requesting $88,500 in additional needs that include $12,000 for buses, $4,000 for professional development, $7,500 for software and $65,000 for Governor School transportation and slots.

In all, the school board is seeking $14,232,826 from the supervisors in the upcoming budget year, $976,826 more in local funding than was provided in the current budget year.

Herndon distributed a copy of the previous “items of consideration” to board members to show where administrators had been “working with the numbers.” At the top of the list were 10 new buses that cost $160,000 a year for five years as part of the lease agreement.

“It’ll only cost $12,000. There’s already $148,000 in the current budget for that,” the superintendent said referring to funds budgeted in the 2012/13 budget.

Cut from the items of consideration were three instructional technology resource teachers, $180,000; one librarian, $60,000; a division-wide autism specialist, $50,000; garage foreman/mechanic, $50,000; maintenance operations coordinator, $50,000; one resource officer, $45,000; security equipment for schools, $20,000; and Subfinder software, $13,000.

The superintendent said administration “doesn’t see it at this time” as they work through the proposed budget.

Security equipment for the schools and the one resource officer are being looked at to see if they can be taken care of through grants or capital improvements, she added.

The recent discussions of Governor’s School got the program added to the list of items of consideration with $40,000 set for transportation and $25,000 to secure slots in the program for a total operating cost estimated at $65,000.

Although she is an avid supporter of the program, Board Chairman Kimberly Farson said she doesn’t believe it is the right time to reinstate the program.

“Nothing has been decided yet,” added Herndon.

ED-3 trustee Karen Hopkins and ED-4 trustee Cheryl Terry suggested administrators look into what it would cost to allow participation in the Governor’s School program in Keysville if the school board does not provide funding for student transportation.

ED-8 trustee Walter Potts asked Herndon where the $1.4 million saved from terminating the Local Optional Retirement Plan was used.

Although she said she only had a rough draft with her, the superintendent said LORP money was used for vacation sick leave, a contract re-negotiation, a leftover bill, an attorney fee from South Boston, hiring of two new bus drivers, textbooks, paying salaries of two principals, hiring one maintenance employee and a food services coordinator.

Potts requested he be given a hard copy of these cost figures.