New Kent Charles City Chronicle

News for New Kent County and Charles City County, Virginia | June 1, 2020

Facing $1.8 million in cuts on proposed budget, Charles City school leaders ponder resolutions

By Andre Jones | May 5, 2020 10:55 pm

While Charles City County Public Schools will receive some financial relief for FY2019-20 due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the upcoming fiscal year is a different story.

School board members met Tuesday night for a work session surrounding the proposed FY2020-21 budget.

After receiving an update on the current fiscal year and reimbursements from the CARES act to assist with educating students for the remainder of the year, attention turned to FY2020-21 and talks about the upcoming budget. At Charles City Board of Supervisors regularly monthly meeting in April, County Administrator Michelle Johnson recommended level funding for the school system for the upcoming year. This recommendation meant school leaders would have to make cuts to their proposed budget; approximately $1.7 million in local dollars. Add an additional $87,000 eliminated by the General Assembly and school leaders had to address reconfiguring a budget with $1.8 million less for FY2020-21.

Along with school director of finance Sue Salg, Superintendent of Schools David Gaston brought up the issue and topic of discussion of the new number.

“It’s going to be a painful year for everybody, not just CCPS [Charles City Public Schools],” he commented.

According to Salg’s presentation, all recommended new positions except for a school psychologist (which will replace contracted services) were part of the school system’s cuts. Also scrapped from the list include providing teachers a raise, something that Gaston said is happening across the entire state.

“The first thing mentioned in the general assembly session was the eliminating of those raises,” he told school board members. “Speaking with fellow superintendents from across the state, I think only three jurisdictions are offering a step increase on the salary scale and that’s it.”

The school’s operating budget isn’t the only thing that is taking a hit on the recommended list of cuts. Most of the school’s entire Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) has been whittled down, especially with the discovery to replace the wastewater treatment plant. Initial costs started at $479,000, but a further evaluation escalated that price to $600,000. That cost is for the refurbishment of the plant and not the replacement. The school’s CIP is pegged to receive $790,856 for the next fiscal year according to Johnson’s recommendation. In turn, that amount wipes out several projects that needs to be addressed for the school system that includes replacing boilers, HVAC systems in the school, replacement of the high school track, and upgrading lighting at the school.

“I can’t see cutting $1.7 million,” said District 1 school board representative Joy Harris. “We should request a carryover if we are going to have a surplus this year.

“I can’t see why we can’t ask for a balanced carryover from the board of supervisors,” she concluded.

District 3 school board member Martha Harris commented about the financial situation that appears to be a repeat process since she’s been on the board.

“This is what we have to deal with every year,” she said, mentioning the numerous cuts the school system makes to meet the propose budget recommended from county leadership. “Unfortunately, this is something of a necessity that we do every year.”

As school board members pondered ways to address school needs, they received a presentation from ABM Building Solutions. The company has been working with the school system to find ways to reduce costs at the school and implement an energy savings contract.

The representatives presented their final proposed plan that include replacement and upgrades to the HVAC system, lighting fixtures, wastewater facility, track complex, and help the school shift to solar power for energy savings. According to the proposals, the moves will help school address complex needs immediately and save the division approximately $220,000 annually, $2 million in CIP revenue over five years, and upwards of $5 million dollars over the life of the project (15 years).

As part of the company’s proposal, they must meet a goal of saving the school $200,000 in annual savings. If they do not, the difference is paid by the company.

The proposal acts as a loan, essentially allowing the school system to take care of facility needs upfront and not making a payment until FY2022-23. According to Salg’s figures, even after paying the yearly fee to the company, it would save the school system money. After the 15-year agreement expires, the school system would receive all funds accumulated from the project.

While Joy Harris says she is all for the project, she would like to see monetary figures before entering into the agreement.

“I want to see some figures,” she commented. “Yes, I want the track fixed and yes, I want the HVAC system fixed, but I want to make sure that we as a school system can afford it. I grew up in this school and I want to make sure that we are in a position to do what’s best for us in the future and not put us in a situation that we cannot afford financially.”

Additional talks continued by board members about the recommendation, saying that if it was accepted that it could solve current problems faced by the school system and also pave the way for future needs.

“I see this as a win-win,” said at-large member Preston Adkins. “If we adopt this, it’s basically a fresh start on our projects. We can build a brand new CIP with projects starting next year and it can be something we can plan for the future needs of the school.”

According to ABM representatives, the school needs roughly $8 million in improvements but only recommended $4.9 million. The school system can save an additional $500,000 through a grant provided by the Mines, Minerals, and Energy Department if the solar project. Additional grants and reimbursements can also lower the cost.

No action was taken on the issue in entering the contract. However, ABM representatives commented that if the contract is accepted, projects can be addressed as soon as June of this year.