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Stafford schools undergo big cuts

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A majority of the Stafford County School Board members agreed that math coaches, math specialists and custodial staff should be saved from the budget ax as they worked to slice $17 million from their approved budget at a Wednesday-night budget work session.

The $17 million funding gap came after county supervisors didn’t give the schools the full $20 million more in the local funding that they requested. Of that $20 million, about $10 million was required expenses, including retirement system increases, $2.1 million in textbooks and $280,000 in legal fees.

Supervisors did give the schools $2 million more than the $139 million that was allotted in County Administrator Anthony Romanello’s budget proposal for the schools.

The list of cuts presented by Superintendent Bruce Benson on Wednesday bridged the gap, and even left the division $20,659 to the good.

But the School Board’s list of “untouchables,” items that could not be cut, tasked school staff to find a little more than $2 million in cuts. Those cuts will be discussed at the school’s next budget work session on May 13.

Some savings from year-end changes helped fill the gap along with the cuts, including about $50,000 in unused money that was budgeted for Benson’s salary and benefits. Benson became superintendent in April.

Benson proposed cuts to elementary school math specialist positions and middle school math coaches that are not funded by Title I grants for a combined savings of $1.2 million.

The division netted another $4.45 million by forgoing salary increases, $1.4 million by discontinuing an early retirement incentive program, $341,875 by cutting additional positions, $63,000 by knocking out position upgrades and $185,000 by eliminating principal intern positions.

One of the largest chunks of savings, $3.6 million, came from increasing the class size by one student. About $4 million was saved by pushing back computer equipment and software projects and infrastructure projects, some of which were safety-related.

In a report to the School Board, Scott Horan, assistant superintendent for facilities, said that none of the infrastructure projects proposed to be cut would pose immediate safety issues to students and staff. Almost all of them, however, would create long-term safety issues if not completed at some point, according to the report.

Benson also proposed saving about $338,000 by restructuring the amount the division contributes to employee health plans. The change would mean that those employees who choose the most expensive health insurance plan would pay more for those benefits. The majority of school employees are on the most expensive plan.

Responding to a previous request by the School Board to find cuts to the school’s administrative office, Benson also proposed eliminating two instructional leadership positions at central office for a $170,000 savings.

Before giving School Board members the floor, Benson said he already anticipated that some of the cuts were not palatable for School Board members.

Cutting the math specialists and math coaches seemed the least palatable for the School Board. Those positions were the first added to most of the School Board members’ list of untouchable items.

“My understanding is that a lot of us have a lot of heartburn in this particular area,” Vice Chair Holly Hazard said.

Opposition to cuts to math specialists and coaches was met with applause from the audience that included several school employees holding posters that compared teacher salaries in Stafford to that of surrounding localities. Another poster read, “I teach in Stafford County, but I can’t afford to live in Stafford County.”

Eliminating the custodial staff and contracting the work out was the second item added to the untouchable list. Because contract costs continue to increase, some School Board members weren’t convinced that the school system would see the savings by replacing the custodial staff with contracted staff.

Even though it didn’t make the untouchable list, School Board members expressed some hesitation on increasing the classroom size by one student. Some School Board members said they needed time to gather community input on the change. The board also asked Benson to come back with more information on the budget of the administrative office.

“That should have been up there from jump street,” School Board member Dewayne McOsker Jr.said.

The elimination of principal intern positions also didn’t make the list. If the positions are cut, the employees in those part-time positions will automatically return to teaching.

Vanessa Remmers: 540/735-1975


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