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Board sends budget to supervisors

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Hopes $1.2 million in cuts will be enough

By Tom Wilmoth

Though it’s been told to expect $1.5 million less in funding this year from the county, the Bedford County School Board approved a $106.7 million budget Thursday for the 2009-2010 school year, representing $1.2 million in cuts from last year’s budget. The board approved the budget hoping the county supervisors will go ahead and cover the $300,000 difference from what it’s been told to expect.

    However Monday, during discussions, the county supervisors decided not to provide additional money. The supervisors have yet to officially adopt a county budget. A public hearing on the county budget will be held at Bedford Science and Technology Center on April 6 at 7:30 p.m.

    Thirty-three positions will be cut as a result of the school budget that was approved, down from the original 80 positions that had been proposed when the school board believed it would be receiving more than $4 million less in overall funding. The approval by Congress of the stimulus package last month helped ease the shortfall by providing close to $2 million for each of the next two years as part of that federal spending package.

    Last week the Bedford County Board of Supervisors informed the school board to expect the $1.5 million reduction in funding. Some board members questioned that cut because they had been led to believe the county, while not increasing the school budget this year, planned to provide the same amount in local school funding as it did last year, $37.78 million.

    “We had this gentleman’s agreement,” School Board member Debbie Hoback said.

    But School Superintendent Dr. James Blevins said county   supervisors  believed   that   the  school system, because it was receiving the additional stimulus money, should share in the $3 million revenue shortfall facing the county. That meant dividing up the shortfall between the school budget and the rest of the county’s departments. “That’s how they arrived at the $1.5 million,” Blevins said.

    The school board, however, decided to set its budget at what members felt was reasonable and send it to the supervisors for approval. “Let them cut what they’re going to cut,” Hoback said.

    “They really haven’t seen what the needs are,” she added later on in the discussion, noting that the county had not yet been sent the school board’s budget.

    The board added two items previously cut from the proposed budget before passing it Thursday: the purchase of nine new school buses (at an annual cost of $135,000) and a stipend paid to para professionals ($142,000). “It’s always going to be hard to add the buses back (in the future),” noted Board chairman Gary Hostutler, about the danger of putting off bus purchases. Hostutler also said it wasn’t fair to single out the para professionals for a pay cut by eliminating their stipends. “I hope they’re making the same tough calls as we,” Hostutler said of the rest of the county departments.

    “We’ll make our case and see what happens,” he added of sending the supervisors the revised budget.

    The board, while taking out a proposed 1 percent salary increase for school employees, decided to cover all of the increased costs for the health and dental plans, expected to raise by about 8 percent next year. “I’m very concerned about reducing anyone’s pay,” said Board member David Black.

    Black, a critic of the agreement between the city of Bedford and the county in which the city contracts with the county for school services, noted that the city’s funding for the school budget this year is down almost 9 percent from last year, about $570,000. He said that’s a shortfall the county supervisors should also take into account when considering their reduction in school funds. He said the city’s reduction is significantly greater that the 3.29 percent the county is proposing and the 2.6 percent from the state.

    He said items are having to be cut from the budget that shouldn’t be taken out. “We’re cutting things we can’t do without,” he said.

    Positions cut in the budget approved by the school board include a reading specialist, four high school teaching positions, three elementary art and music teachers, four elementary teachers, three library aides, the Tag coordinator, two librarians, four special ed teachers, five special ed aides, two Bridge aides, one Bridge teacher, a guidance position, a receptionist and one technology position. The federal funds from the stimulus package helped the school board add back in more than half of the original proposed personnel cuts. School staff hope most, if not all of the positions being eliminated, can be handled through attrition.

    School Board member Mickey VanDerwerker questioned whether some of the teaching cuts should have been kept. “I wonder if we’re just putting off what we know we’re going to have to do (in the future),” she said. “I worry that we’re going to put ourselves in a bigger hole next year.”

    VanDerwerker referenced the fact that as many as 13 high school teaching positions were originally going to be eliminated. She said if the board went ahead and eliminated those positions, since they were already slated to be cut, it might free up money to fund some other needed budget items.

    During Thursday night’s meeting, Cheryl Sprouse, president of the Bedford County Education Association, asked the board to consider adding a second personal day of leave for teachers next year. “I do not understand why we cannot get teachers two personal leave days in Bedford County schools,” she said.