Division’s big cuts have parents upset

Posted: April 30, 2013

The Winchester Star

BERRYVILLE — After voting last week to shorten the student school calendar by 10 days, the Clarke County School Board voted Monday to add back five of those after receiving public backlash.

The unanimous vote came at a School Board meeting at Clarke County High School in which about 50 parents and teachers showed up to show support and express concerns about the calendar and various budget cuts — most notably the elimination of a music teacher.

Clarke’s School Board has a $27.1 million budget for fiscal year 2014 with a $21.5 million school operating fund. The additional expenditures from the operating fund are $3,888,619 for debt service; $761,012 for food service; $728,163 for the school capital fund and $273,510 for the textbook fund.

Last week, the School Board voted to provide all employees with a 2 percent pay raise effective July 1 (at a cost of either $195,711 or $300,694 — depending on whether it is supplemented by state and local money) and proposed shortening its student school calendar by 10 days (from 180 to 170) in order to save about $100,000. Schools are required to attend 180 days or 990 hours per year, and the division is expecting to meet the hour requirement with the shortened calendar.

However, member Janet Creager Alger made a motion to make the calendar 175 days after some concerned parents spoke out Monday amid loud applause from their supporters.

Parent Katie Kerr-Hobert did not believe a few minutes added onto each day would be more beneficial than 10 full school days.

“I’m really concerned the way you went about changing the schedule this year,” she said. “Have you really thought this through?”

Deborah O’Keefe teared up as she talked about how important education is for her two boys.

“Every second they could be educated matters,” she said.

Former School Board Chairwoman Robina Rich Bouffault said a shorter school calendar would be detrimental to both a family’s schedule and a child’s learning.

“Your top priority must always be the student,” she said. “Always.”

How the shorter calendar will be implemented has not been decided. It will start and end on the same dates, but cutting 5 days will result in a savings of approximately $48,000 in fuel, food service and bus driver hours.

The board approved $1.09 million in reductions as part of the division’s effort to eliminate a $1 million gap in funding after it was denied its request for more assistance by the Board of Supervisors.

The cuts include reducing the workforce by four full-time equivalent positions (at a savings of more than $250,000), cutting textbook funding ($223,510), cutting maintenance and operation costs ($100,000), reducing the number of new full-time hires ($99,000), eliminating summer school and the program’s drivers ($34,000), eliminating two bus routes ($32,000), eliminating a substitute teacher pay increase ($28,000) and cutting $15,000 from middle school activities.

Most of the cuts are in workforce reductions and programs.

Much of the support Monday was for retaining a middle school music teacher whose position was among those cut. Cutting the position, they said, would stretch an already thin music staff and could lead to the elimination of the marching band.

“If you cut any of our staff, there will be so few of them that scheduling will be difficult,” said junior Aly Kerby.

Parent Mary Jo Davis said she was “appalled” at the elimination of the position, while parent and employee Paula Shipman said she would “forgo a raise to keep these employees” who were cut.

“Such a small raise is almost unnoticeable,” she said.

Former School Board member Jennifer Welliver encouraged everyone in attendance to not only voice concerns with the board but also with county supervisors.

After the audience spoke, School Board members voiced the reasoning behind their decisions.

“It’s the federal and state governments that have really harmed us in the past years,” said member Barbara Lee.

Vice-Chairman Chip Schutte said the board had “very, very few options.”

“Some of these cuts really hurt,” he said. “It hurts me, too.”

Alger called it an “agonizing process.”

“What we’re finding is we can’t do it all.”

Present at the meeting were Chairwoman Beth Leffel, Vice-Chairman Chip Schutte and members Jim Brinkmeier, Janet Creager Alger and Barbara Lee.

— Contact Rebecca Layne at rlayne@winchesterstar.com