Officials: School budget gap could hit Clarke division hard

Posted: November 13, 2013

The Winchester Star

BERRYVILLE — The Clarke County School Board is discussing potential outcomes, such as staff reduction, that could occur if major budget shortfalls hit the division this year.

At the group’s meeting on Tuesday at D.G. Cooley Elementary School, Finance Director Tom Judge discussed challenges the 2015 budget may bring.

He said causes for a budget shortfall could include an increase in the Virginia Retirement System rate, a rise in the county’s Composite Index (leading to the locality paying more), an expected drop in student enrollment (meaning less state aid), an increase in health insurance costs and the federal sequester — all of which could result in a $1.2 million shortfall.

“We might have to make changes,” said Schools Superintendent Mike Murphy. “We might have to make large-scale changes.”

These could include increasing class sizes by reducing the staff, forgoing employee pay raises, deferring maintenance projects, decreasing the employer contribution to benefits, delaying textbook adoptions, limiting or eliminating some elective programs and further reducing transportation routes.

Board member Barbara Lee said these are preliminary suggestions to deal with a possible shortfall and not a statement that such actions will occur.

Board members also listed potential needs in the division, including restoring summer enrichment and remediation programs, after-school transportation and the removal of some or all of the five instructional days from the calendar in April.

Division officials would also like to re-examine class sizes and consider adding program offerings (such as music and Career and Technical Education) and SAT and ACT test-preparation classes.

And if the budget allows, officials will also study the hiring of a records retention/special education compliance secretary and additional staff members, such as a drug and alcohol counselor, custodians and a receptionist.

Also at the meeting, parent Michelle Graham asked the board to reinstate the full-time middle school band director position, cut in April.

She said the division “has begun a slow process to systematically deconstruct the [music] program.”

Graham cited studies that students studying music have better standardized test scores than those who don’t.

Present at the meeting were Chairman Beth Leffel and members Janet Creager Alger, Barbara Lee and Chuyen Kochinsky. Vice-Chairman Chip Schutte was absent.

— Contact Rebecca Layne at rlayne@winchesterstar.com