Having attended the Rappahannock County School Board public hearing this week, it is now clear to me that our school superintendent and the school board have no appetite for the cuts that are so obviously needed to reduce spending in an already bloated school budget. If there is to be any meaningful fiscal reform this year, our duly elected board of supervisors will have to do all of the heavy lifting.
As they search the Superintendent’s 2012-2013 Budget Proposal for possible spending reductions, the supervisors might do well to start with a review of the staffing levels and related employee benefits which now consume almost 80 percent of the entire school budget.
Here are a few ideas:
Staffing Levels: In view of reduced enrollment, we should take a very hard look at all staffing levels within our school system. While this is not pleasant, Dr. Boone must share his justification for all school personnel with the board of supervisors and include recommendations for staff reductions where necessary. Such an analysis would seem a most basic tool for the evaluation of our single largest school (and county) expenditure.
Health Insurance Premiums: Perhaps the greatest opportunity to achieve immediate spending reductions rests in our approach to school employee health care premiums. School employees currently contribute nothing to their own very generous health insurance plan – while county taxpayers now entirely underwrite this $1.8 million “Cadillac” health care coverage plan. Our supervisors should immediately require school employees to help defray the cost of their own coverage – much like their private sector counterparts. This might include a combination of one or more of the following: employee premium contributions, increased deductibles, and increased co-pays. Health Savings Accounts might also be reviewed. Since this is such a huge portion of our school (and county) budget, the board might even consider appointing an independent committee to review the available options in an effort to bring this line item under control.
Pay Increases: While some school employee pay increases are warranted, Dr. Boone should be “sent back to the drawing board” on his call for an across-the-board increase. The notion that even under-performing teachers deserve this raise is absurd. The supervisors should charge Dr. Boone and the school board with developing an incentive plan to reward those teachers who are achieving real results.
I remain confident that our board of supervisors can find solid solutions to more efficiently fund the legitimate needs of our county schools and simultaneously protect the rights of all Rappahannock County taxpayers – this is, after all, their job.
Jeffrey E. Knight