Stafford schools must pare budget by $17M
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story included an incorrect student-teacher ratio.
Stafford County’s School Board spent the past few months crafting a budget that asked for nearly $20 million more from county supervisors.
Now, they have to carve about $17 million, as supervisors voted on a budget that gives the schools less money than they requested.
To bridge that gap, Superintendent Bruce Benson suggested cutting math specialists, forgoing employee raises and cutting contributions to some employee health insurance costs.
Benson also recommends skipping replacement buses, maintenance projects at various schools and computer equipment.
“The magnitude of the gap that we are faced with is huge,” Benson told School Board members Tuesday night at a budget work session.
Of the $20 million more the school division requested, about $10.4 million would pay for mandatory increases in benefits, textbooks, legal fees and special education positions. The rest of the money included requests to replace aging buses, to upgrade locks on school doors and to replace computer equipment and software.
The School Board reviewed Benson’s suggestions and asked some questions but gave little indication of how they would vote on many of the proposed cuts.
Some balked at cuts to math specialists, school custodians and safety-related maintenance projects. But Chairwoman Nanette Kidby said that the unpalatable cuts might be necessary.
“It’s certainly a daunting task to have to cut over $17 million in a budget,” Kidby said. “It absolutely breaks my heart.”
One of the proposed cuts would mean that employees choosing the most expensive health insurance plan would pay more for those benefits. Now, the school division spends about $705 per month for each employee who chooses the top-of-the-line insurance plan. For employees choosing a lower-tier plan, the school division spends $603. The gap widens when employees choose to insure dependents on the priciest plan. In that scenario, the school division spends $1,200 but only $501 for an employee and family on the cheapest plan.
The school division could save about $338,000 by giving employees a flat contribution that is close to the amount given to workers who choose the midlevel health insurance option. The majority of school employees choose the highest-level insurance.
Benson told the School Board that the division could save $594,000 by cutting math specialists that aren’t funded by Title I grants; $4.5 million by not giving step increases; $1.4 million by scrapping the early retirement incentive program; and $3.6 million by increasing classroom size by one student.
School Board members asked Benson to also consider cuts to the school division’s administrative costs.
“If we’re looking at a 6 percent reduction … I’d like to look at central office, too,” Kidby said.
Amy Flowers Umble: 540/735-1973