Budget . . . balanced?

School board trims more than $200K from budget; no increase required

After just one budget work session, the Rappahannock County School Board may have already worked out a balanced budget — one that provides a long overdue step raise to the school system’s employees and requires no increased funds from the county or the public.

Working from the governor’s projected budget, superintendent Donna Matthews reported earlier this month that Rappahannock will likely receive less federal funding (about $68,000, though that number is subject to change) and need to make some budget cuts.

Those cuts were the subject of Tuesday night’s (Jan. 28) meeting, as Matthews outlined her proposed budget for FY 2014-2015. The first thing Matthews proposed was a step increase for the school system’s employees, which totalled $41,342. A step increase, Matthews noted, was also the most requested item by the 100 RCPS teachers Matthews polled.

Matthews also reminded the board that there would be a mandatory 3 percent increase ($163,120) to Virginia Retirement System (VRS) funding, and a potential 5 percent increase ($17,256) to the board members’ portion of the health insurance policy. Matthews added that the insurance increase could be more than 5 percent and would then require additional budget cuts, but that the exact number wouldn’t be known until early March, after the state’s own budget is finalized.

Several other increases — to workers’ compensation ($8,000), governor’s school tuition ($4,244), sewer and water authority ($2,560) and more — brought the total proposed budget increases to $237,070 more than the $12.47 million FY 2013-2014 budget.

Matthews then turned her attention to addressing budget cuts to compensate for the difference, explaining that she’d met with both principals — Cathy Jones at the elementary school and Michael Tupper at the high school — and asked for their help in making cuts. Jones was able to cut more than $80,000 from the elementary school, while Tupper cut $50,000 from the high school.

“Wow, she really really blew you out of the water here, Mike,” remarked Jackson district’s Amy Hitt.

“I won,” Jones laughed.

The single biggest cut to both, and the one Matthews said might be a talking point if not properly explained, was a $55,000 reduction in the elementary school’s textbooks fund (and a reduction of $40,955 at RCHS). Those funds were originally allocated for the state-mandated adoption of new textbooks, Matthews said, and was so large because RCPS originally fell behind in its adoption schedule.

As of right now, however, all the textbooks at both schools have been adopted and replaced in accordance with state standards, Matthews said; the funds are no longer necessary. There is still some money left in both to cover the purchase of dual-enrollment and AP textbooks, Matthews said, but “this is a good year to take that [money] out.”

Matthews also advocated cutting $10,000 from the electricity budget and $22,000 from the school system’s maintenance budget. “This isn’t something I’ve done lightly,” Matthews said, adding that it would still leave $94,000 in the fund.

Other RCES reductions included $10,000 to the materials/supplies fund (leaving $28,000 and not cutting into the teachers’ classroom supplies funds, Matthews said); $6,786 saved on a renegotiated copier lease; $2,500 from the extracurricular stipends; $1,000 each from the library supplies and special education testing materials; and several others.

Other cuts to the high school included a $3,565 reduction to special education equipment repairs; $3,300 from classroom supplies; $3,750 from miscellaneous classroom expenses, testing fees and brochures; and several more.

All told, Matthews’ proposal cut $198,161 from the 2013-14 school budget, which left the board with $38,909 still to trim. Some of the other areas she’d considered cutting included $10,000 from the substitutes fund; $10,000 from the summer interns fund; $1,000 from the Curriculum Enrichment Program (CEP) funds; and $15,000 that paid the school’s (now vacant) Next Step coordinator position.

Hitt was the first to advocate making all those cuts — as well as increasing the amount taken from the substitutes fund to $12,909 to cover the remaining $2,909 needed. Hitt suggested the school’s guidance counselors could help build on what the Next Step program has already established — saving the school from having to hire a full-time coordinator. “That [$15,000] is half of what we need,” Hitt added.

Additionally, because the school is absorbing the entire cost for the highly successful Farm-To-Table program this year (which was previously co-sponsored by Headwaters), Hitt suggested the board could talk to the local education-funding foundation about contributing more toward Next Step in the future (Headwaters now pays for benefits and half the coordinator’s salary).

While Tupper was quick to admit the school could get by without a Next Step coordinator, he also reminded the board that the program, which helps students with their post-high school plans, “isn’t just for college-bound kids.” Tupper said he’d ideally like to have someone in that position, because it requires “more [time and work] than people realize.”

Both Matthews and Hitt admitted cutting $12,000 from the substitutes fund would likely be contentious, but Hitt argued that, with more careful personnel management, it wouldn’t be a problem. Jones and Tupper added that they would “make it work,” regardless of how much funding they received.

The rest of the board agreed with Hitt and Matthews’ proposed suggestions, and unanimously approved the additional cuts. “I don’t think I could trim another penny from this,” said Piedmont’s Aline Johnson, proudly.

“This is all very commendable,” agreed Wakefield district’s Chris Ubben. “I’m thrilled that we’re not asking for a raise.”