Schools take heat for request on funding

Posted: April 11, 2013

The Winchester Star

BERRYVILLE — School funding was the only topic of discussion as the Clarke County Board of Supervisors held a public hearing Wednesday night on its $37,998,056 budget plan for 2013-14.

The budget is to be funded without an increase in the real estate or personal property tax rate. Instead, a $647,968 deficit will be made up from the county’s fund balance.

The current $38,338,129 budget needed $1,162,223 in fund balance money to even up expenditures and revenues.

About 15 people, most connected to the county schools, attended the meeting.

Thomas Judge, director of finance for Clarke, ran through the budget — which, according to Supervisor David Weiss, had mostly “brackets,” meaning the figure in the budget proposal is less than what that department or line item was funded in the current spending plan.

For instance, the Multi Agency Federal Task Force was funded at $65,000 under the current budget, but only at $15,000 under the proposed fiscal year 2014 budget. The $50,000 reduction is due to a federal grant that will not continue after June 30, Judge said.

School operations shows an increase of $29,498 — far below the $1.2 million in additional revenue the School Board requested.

School Board member Janet Creager Alger urged the supervisors to “see the need for more compensation for employees.”

Money spent on the schools is “an investment in the community,” Alger said, adding that “people are the heart of the system.”

But Robina Rich Bouffault, former chairwoman of the School Board, had a different take.

Bouffault said the school population has been declining since 2007, dropping from 2,200 students to 2,040, but that the number of employees has increased.

And, she said, from 2012 to 2013 the school’s operating budget went up 8 percent — almost $1.5 million — in one year.

The increases in funding have come “without any perceptible improvement in student performance,” Bouffault added.

Other groups, such as the Sheriff’s Office and Social Services, “have their budgets cut and cut yet again,” Bouffault said, while the schools are the sole exception to the rule.

Supervisor David Weiss, who served on the Finance Committee to craft the budget, agreed with that assessment.

The committee, he said, went through every budget request, “down to the postage. We tried to go through every area to find any savings,” due to the supervisors’ agreement to hold the line on tax rates.

“I support this budget,” Weiss said. “It is a fair budget and we ask everyone who partakes of public funds to make sacrifices.”

He also had a word of advice for the School Board.

By crafting a budget requesting a huge increase in local funding, the School Board wasn’t fulfilling its responsibility to make tough decisions, Weiss said. They shouldn’t be sitting back and saying they could not accept the fact that the extra money they want is not available.

After the hearing, School Board Chairwoman Elizabeth “Beth” Leffel said her Finance Committee would meet Friday and have recommendations for cuts ready for the full board Monday night.

Attending the meeting in the Joint Government Center were Chairman Michael Hobert and members Beverly McKay, David Weiss, John Staelin and Barbara Byrd.

— Contact Val Van Meterat