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Closing schools eyed during budget talks

Halifax County School Board is seeking just about the same amount of local funding schools received from the county last year, it was decided Monday night when the board met during a budget work session held at Mary Bethune office complex in Halifax.

This year board members are seeking local funding totaling $16,634,259 from the county governing body, and last year they asked for and received $16,630,336.

“Last year we asked for $16,630,336 which was an increase of 3.474 percent,” said Superintendent Dr. Merle Herndon.

ED-5 Trustee Roger Long pointed out this year the composite index increased by 6.3 percent that meant less funding from the state saying it was supposed “to be picked up” by the board of supervisors. 

 “Sooner or later you are going to have to face the reality of funding has not been changed and make up from what we lost,” said Long. 

The proposed county funding request contains level funding of $13,377,529 which Herndon pointed out was the only amount directly affecting students. 

Added to that is the state projection of local funding increase needed of $739,868. 

The board is facing a sequestration net decrease of $103,907 between 2013-14 and 2014-15 as well as a projected increase in health insurance between 11 to 18 percent for an additional $659,376 needed from the county. 

The estimated final increase in VRS totals $637,198. Currently the school system is paying $6,090 for approximately 62 full-time employees. 

The proposal also included pay raises for teachers and other employees totaling $1,116,381 to cover possible compensation study results. 

A break down of the compensation recommendation includes $783,381 for teacher raises, $113,000 for all other employees “to receive a little something” and $220,000 for fixed charges.

For the compensation study proposal, “We used steps based on the possibility of starting with $200, then on the fifth year we did $500,” said Herndon referencing the possibility of teachers gaining steps to their payscale.  

The 2014-15 fiscal year budget is based on a state projected enrollment of 5,085 students. State funding is expected to be $34,010,499, which is an increase of $342,026 over last year’s state funding. 

Based on Dec. 20 enrollment of 5,212 students, state funding will amount to $34,750,606, which is an increase of $1,082,133. 

These two amounts are calculated based on Gov. Bob McDonnell’s budget, Herndon explained. 

Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe will present his budget, and a final budget will be passed after being reviewed and recommended by a conference committee of the House and Senate, which will take place in mid-February. 

Final state funding will be based on March 31, 2014 enrollment. 

Also as part of budget discussions during the Monday evening meeting, school board members talked about the possibility of rejoining Governor’s School. 

Dr. Paula Gastenveld of Southside Virginia Community College told Herndon in an email prior to the meeting that SVCC is committed to helping Halifax County students attend Governor’s School. 

SVCC is willing to rent a van to Halifax School System for $1 during the 2014-15 academic year and maintain the vehicle buying the gas and paying for oil changes, tire rotations and all other maintenance and upkeep. 

Halifax County School System would be required to hire and pay the driver of the van as well as insure the vehicle. 

Costs for hiring a driver are estimated at $70 per day for 180 days for a total of $12,600, and insurance would cost approximately $300 to $400, Herndon said. 

Original transportation costs were approximately $39,690. 

Long also introduced the board to a state budget allocation provided for school systems participating in Governor’s School. 

 “By Friday, we can put our school’s name on the list, and they can include us in the next year’s budget,” Long said. 

Several board members voiced reservations because no action has been taken on the issue, and the earliest it could be voted on is during next Monday’s meeting. 

Herndon said she plans to contact State Deputy Superintendent Kent Dickey’s office to clarify if the board needs to be committed to Governor’s School in order to be on the list to receive a portion of the state budget allocation. 

 “The allocation is based on the number of the students you send to Governor’s School. If you don’t send any, there will be none,” said Long. 

While the allocation is not a “done deal,” Herndon told the board she felt they should be on the list so they could at least look at their possibilities.

The board agreed if no commitment were necessary, they would join the list in order to have the possibility of further funding. 

Governor’s School will not be on the agenda for Monday’s meeting but will have to be brought up by a board member to be added to the agenda and voted on before it can be discussed or acted on. 

The possibility of closing Cluster Springs Early Learning Center also was briefly discussed Monday evening during budget talks. 

With only 87 students occupying the building, several classrooms remain empty, and Herndon questioned how much money could be saved if the early learning center were closed. 

According to Maintenance Director Larry Roller, $33,000 could be saved for the whole year on utilities, electrical, maintenance, repair and custodial supplies. 

Roller also pointed out the empty classrooms are not being heated or cooled, so no savings would be realized if they were moved to another location currently not being heated or cooled. 

ED-8 Trustee Walter Potts said he feels Cluster Springs Early Learning Center is not the real issue the board should be discussing. Instead, he said trustees should look at closing one of the larger schools. 

“You will save a considerable amount of money by closing a larger school as compared to that, but the reality of it is you still are going to have to take those kids and put them somewhere else. It’s not going to add to the cost of the school because you already have people in it that’s going to handle that. The bigger the school, the bigger the savings,” said Potts. 

Referring to the possible closing of Cluster Springs Early Learning Center, ED-7 Trustee Dick Stonemen said, “When you are talking about $33,000 for 82 kids, then I think this is something that we really need to think about.” 

Overall the board agreed to the budget proposal as it was presented. 

All completed budget requests are due to Director of Finance Stephanie Jackson by Jan. 15.  

The next meeting for the Halifax County School Board will be Monday at 6 p.m. at the Mary Bethune office complex.