Job eliminations, reassignments part of reductions made by Charles City School Board in budget
Forced to cut nearly three-quarters of a million dollars from its 2018-19 proposed budget, Charles City’s school board adopted recommendations of cuts and reassignments presented by superintendent of schools David Gaston and his staff.
Cuts at Tuesday night’s work session came as the result of receiving information from the Apr. 24 meeting of the county’s board of supervisors. At that meeting, County Administrator Michelle Johnson proposed a budget of $5,504,573 for the schools. By contrast, the schools had requested $6,018,471 in local funding.
Gaston addressed the dilemma, saying he, along with director of finance Sue Salg and director of operations Jerome Tyler spent the previous 72 hours working on figures and looking for possible ways to trim the deficit.
“While we made the best budget anticipating our needs, there are two complicated factors in what we’re dealing with,” the superintendent said. “First, Richmond [the state government] continues to stall over its budget and locally, the state revenue and aid are down.
“Our number one priority is to protect instruction in this budget,” Gaston continued. “We want to show that we stand behind the employees to give them additional compensation.”
Gaston unveiled the list of recommendation to reduce the budget by $755,000. Under the proposal, several personnel positions will be eliminated or consolidated. At the top of the list, a district assistant principal position will be created, eliminating one assistant principal job. A certified nursing assistant position will be kept instead of hiring an additional registered nurse. With a law going into effect July 1 that schools must provide an in-school suspension coordinator at the elementary level, two instructional aides position at the elementary school will be eliminated to provide funding for that new job. The recommendations also saw the declining of hiring a human resources director and K-8 math specialist for positions vacated during the current school year. School psychology services will once again operate on a contracted service, and a guidance secretary position will shift to a senior office administration post. Additional savings are expected from salary adjustments ($115,000-$120,000) and the possibility of new hires.
A few positives did emerge from Tuesday night talks. Bus drivers will see an hourly pay increase to $14/hour, and salaried employees are slated to receive a two-percent increase in pay. That raise also includes central office staff, something Gaston was adamant about providing for those workers.
“Central office workers are some of the hardest working folks,” he said, pointing to the number of things each member does. “They’ve taken on more duties and are doing jobs designed for one person.
“Not compensating these individuals is a crime,” Gaston added.
The superintendent advised school board members that more ways to save money are being explored for future years. With the school offices set to relocate its headquarters to the old middle school main office, the structure of central office may also change.
One of the more intriguing cost savings placed in front of school leaders for future years is reducing the number of bus routes. Currently, a GPS study of bus routes is ongoing, but a strong possibility was hinted by Gaston that transportation may see those changes sooner rather than later.
“We are consider reducing the routes to 11 buses and making it a one-tier system,” the superintendent commented. “Most small rural school divisions do it and it’s something that we will be taking a serious look at.”
By moving to a one-tier system, kids from preschool to grade 12 will ride the same bus. If adopted in the future, Gaston said that elementary school students would begin classes at 8:15 a.m. while high school students would start at 8:30 a.m.
After hearing the superintendent’s presentation, school board members weighed in on the decision that had to be made that night in order to get contracts out to employees in a timely manner.
“This is definitely not the direction we wanted to see, but this is our reality,” said District 1 representative and chairwoman Helen Payne-Jones. “As harsh as these are, this will still help us give our staff raises and preserve our preschool programs.”
“My major concern is when cuts are in the instruction category,” chimed in at-large member Steve Fuhrmann, pointing to the reduction in staff. “I see $175,000 in teacher cuts.
“I appreciate the effort in keeping the two-percent raises,” he added. “The most vital part of our business is our teachers.”
At-large member Preston Adkins, who posed the lone vote of opposition for adopting the superintendent’s recommended cuts, expressed frustration with the lack of funding.
“Our staff continues to do more and more work for less and less pay,” he said. “I just don’t like seeing things cuts and that’s why I voted against this.”
After the vote passed 4-1 to accept the proposed reductions, school employees used the public comment period to express their feelings.
“I understand the board has a lot of hard choices, and I appreciate their work, but this is the time when the community needs to speak out,” said elementary school principal Heather Kennedy. “They don’t speak out because they are afraid, but trust me the parents care about the kids, I see it every day.
“These additional cuts increase the workloads on individuals,” said high school principal Marcus Petty. “It’s going to be harder to keep people here. You want to see movement, but you also don’t want to be spread so thin.”
Payne-Jones echoed the concerned employees’ sentiments during the school board’s comment period.
“Ever since I’ve been here, it’s been level funding, level funding, level funding for the last years,” said the chairwoman. “Working with level funding is like living on a fixed income.
“We can’t keep working on level funding,” Payne-Jones said as she wrapped up her comments. “You’ll never be able to make any type of advancement and get ahead if you continue to work with the same fixed number year after year.”