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School Board makes cuts; trims budget by $1.5 M to balance

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By Tom Wilmoth

    The Bedford County School Board found $1.5 million in cuts to balance its budget last week.
    The board held a four-hour work session Thursday to consider the budget cuts which were needed after the Bedford County Board of Supervisors cut its increase in local funding from $4.2 million to $2.5 million. The school board had requested the $3.5 million increase.
    Among the cuts made to help balance the budget:
    • No new buses will be purchased in the upcoming fiscal year;
    • 10 positions will be eliminated. None of these are teaching positions, two are from the Central Office;
    • No money will be added to the school maintenance fund. The supervisors have indicated they are willing to help the school system pay for any emergencies in maintenance, should they arise;
    • School bus drivers will receive the same health benefits offered to part-time employees. Currently bus drivers are offered insurance at the same rate as full-time employees. In order to help with the transition, a one-time fund will be established to help provide bus drivers with some funds to cover the increased costs.
    In addition, the school board elected to go with a self-insurance method, breaking away from its one-year joint partnership with Bedford County in seeking health insurance benefits. The school employees will also see their copays for specialists increase under the new plan.
    The school board also came up with a number of other cuts, including taking $30,000 from a fund to replace furniture throughout the school system as well as saving funds slated for uniforms for some employees.
    All school employees will also have their insurance premium costs rise by $10.
    At its regular meeting Thursday evening, the board approved the $98.69 million budget.
    School Board Vice Chairman Julie Bennington noted that the board was able to compromise to balance the budget. "We all made compromises that we didn't intend to do, to get this budget passed," she said.
    District 6 Board member Kelly Harmony suggested starting the budget process earlier next year, working to have a better relationship with the supervisors on the budget.
    "This was a difficult process for us," stated newly elected Board Chairman Gary Hostutler. "There was a lot of compromise. ... We try to get the best we can for the students."
    Hostutler also noted that this was the fifth year in which employees didn't receive any substantial increase to their pay, adding that he was grateful for their work on behalf of the students.