Balancing the budget

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School employees asked if they would favor pay cuts over layoffs

By Tom Wilmoth

Bedford County School employees were being asked this week if they would be willing to take a pay cut, as opposed to having layoffs, to help the school system deal with a $4.9 million shortfall in next year's budget.

    The results of that survey will be used to help the school board make decisions about the 2009-2010 budget.

    The board met in a work session last week to discuss the budget and will meet again tomorrow. A proposed budget by School Superintendent Dr. James Blevins suggested cutting 80 positions next year.

    The survey asked school employees if they would be willing to take a 1 percent or a 3 percent cut in pay in order to save jobs. A 1 percent change equals about $600,000 in costs to the school system.

    According to Ryan Edwards, public relations coordinator with the school system, the 1 percent option was getting the most support from school employees, with more than half of those who’ve responded favoring that.  Support for the 3 percent option had little support, he said.

    Employees were also being asked if they would favor having their contracts cut by three, five or 10 days. The survey was supposed to be concluded today.

    “Nothing’s decided yet,” stated Board Chairman Gary Hostutler   about    the  budget during last week’s work session.

    Blevins told the board that the direction he is getting from the state is that the cuts being made this year in school funding will be permanent. He said the upcoming budget cuts should be made with the thought in mind that there won’t be new money from the state the following year.

    The school board is looking at a variety of potential cost-saving measures including cutting back the number of days some 11-month employees work (from 230 to 220) as well as looking to see if days could be reduced in the 10-month contract that teachers currently have, now set at 200. Blevins said the school system’s attorney is looking into whether that contract could legally be changed. It’s believed, however, that legally the school system couldn’t change that contract.

    Vice chairman Debbie Hoback said the impact of the economy is trickling down to Main Street. “The least impact is to keep people working, in my opinion,” she said.

    Board member Talbot Huff, however, said it’s important to keep those working for the school system happy and that he did not favor cutting salaries.

    Board member Joy Wright said it’s important to ask the employees what they think about any proposed changes, such as having them work fewer days for less pay. “They need to have some ownership in what we’re going to do,” she said.

    Blevins said it was important to note that most of the positions he has proposed to be cut would be handled through attrition, meaning that the cuts amount to a freezing of staff. Some would have been eliminated just because of lower enrollment numbers, he added.

    Of the 80 positions proposed to be cut, 25 are para-professionals. In a typical year the school system will lose around 20 of those positions through attrition.

    Of all the positions suggested to be cut, Blevins said he had received the most feedback on cuts in the nursing staff at the schools.

    One suggested avenue to help bring in additional funds discussed by the board would be to have students who attend governor’s schools pay for half of those costs to the county. Blevins had already included in his proposed budget having some students who take dual enrollment courses pay for half of their costs. In those courses students receive both college and high school credit. That cost to the students would amount to about $43 per credit hour.

    For the county’s 50 governor’s school students a change in the program could mean a cost to them of about $2,000 per year. Currently students enrolled in the  Early College program through Bedford County pay half of the costs for that program. Those students attend classes at the Bedford campus of Central Virginia Community College for two years, graduating with an associate’s degree as well as their high school diploma. Students at the governor’s schools also receive college credit for courses taken in those programs.