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2018-02-07 / Front Page

School Board tackles budget, unfunded priorities

By Rich Griset

Sitting in the auditorium of Thomas Dale High’s main campus Tuesday night, the School Board heard presentations regarding funding at its budget work session and discussed ways to tackle unfunded priorities.

School Board chairman and Dale District representative John Erbach was unable to attend, as he was waylaid coming back from a trip overseas. The School Board is expected to vote on their budget during their business meeting on Feb. 12.

Citizens Budget Advisory Committee report

The meeting began with a presentation from the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee, which helps Chesterfield County Public Schools’ superintendent and School Board evaluate where funds should be spent. The presentation was given by Bryan Aud, the committee’s chair and Midlothian District representative.

Aud explained that the committee recommended a continuation of the school system’s five-year plan initiatives, including salary increases, a reduction in pupil-teacher ratios and targeting funds to address achievement gaps. He also said the school system needed to invest in data warehousing, which would allow it to aggregate data and lead to cost savings.

“CCPS is woefully behind in aggregating data,” Aud said.

Regarding pupil-teacher ratio reduction, Aud said new teachers should be targeted to meet needs at underperforming schools and kindergarten through third grade. He also recommended $4 million for staff recruitment, retention and recognition, including a 1 percent salary increase for instructional staff. The superintendent’s current budget proposal includes a 2 percent salary increase for all eligible school system employees.

During the presentation, Midlothian representative Javaid Siddiqi asked Aud for advice in determining needs versus wants in crafting a budget. Brenda Stewart, the Matoaca District representative on CBAC, advised that the School Board look at a curriculum audit report from 2008, and that perhaps too many initiatives were being undertaken without obvious benefits.

Substitute pay and elementary office staffing

Christina Berta, the school system’s chief finance officer, gave a presentation that compared substitute pay with other school districts and discussed current levels of elementary school office staffing.

Berta explained that in CCPS, substitute assignments and rates are based on either providing half-day or full-day services, whereas other school divisions in the area only provide whole-day rates. Half-day services pay less money and may be less appealing to substitutes.

During the 2010-11 school year, substitute rates were decreased as a cost-cutting measure and haven’t increased since; the daily rate currently paid to degreed substitute teachers is less than what was paid in the 2007-08 school year. Berta then gave an overview of unfilled substitute requests at different schools: the top 10 for the current school year are Carver Middle (32 percent unfilled), Harrowgate Elementary (30 percent) and Falling Creek Middle (24 percent).

This prompted a discussion from School Board members on possible ways to address the issue, including incentivizing good attendance for teachers and targeted rates for substitutes and hard-to-staff schools.

Berta also explained that in the 2010-11 school year, elementary school offices experienced a recession-related staffing reduction. Before that school year, the clerical staffing model included a 12-month office manager, two 11-month secretaries and a three-hour office assistant. Since 2010-11, the model has been one 12-month office manager, one 11-month secretary and one 10-month secretary.

Budget discussion

During the budget discussion, School Board members talked about possible ways to find more money within the budget to fund more of its priorities.

Superintendent James Lane explained that he’d had his staff look at the budget to find savings, but “there really wasn’t a lot of contingency.” Possible savings include scaling back participation in regional professional development programs; a 5 percent reduction in department operation budgets that could free up $560,000; reducing tuition reimbursements for teachers; and funding for an employee assistance program that’s seldom used.

Dianne Smith, Clover Hill representative, discussed beginning to fund some priorities, even if they can’t do as much as they’d like right away.

“We can’t do it all,” she said. “If we start chipping away, there’s a method to it, and sometimes those increments become more affordable.”

Siddiqi agreed, saying they should rank their unfunded priorities, then look into incremental changes and conduct a cost analysis.

“We are in a unique situation,” he said, “because our unfunded priorities are so great.”

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