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Stafford School Board adopts $256 million budget

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The School Board adopted a $256 million operational budget Tuesday by a 6–1 vote, shaving $17 million from their previously approved budget to fill a funding gap.

The budget represents a 1.49 percent increase from last year’s $252 million budget.

The School Board requested an additional $20 million from the Board of Supervisors this year. About $10 million of that $20 million was deemed required expenses for things like textbook purchases, retirement system cost increases and legal fees.

Supervisors didn’t give the full $20 million, but did funnel an additional $2 million to the schools in addition to the $139 million that was proposed for the schools in County Administrator Anthony Romanello’s budget proposal.

The School Board partially bridged the gap by cutting four middle school math coaching positions and 5.5 full-time custodial staff positions.

“I will be supporting the budget because the budget needs to be passed,” Chairman Nanette Kidby said, adding that it was the worst budget cycle that she has seen in all the time she has been on the School Board.

School Superintendent Bruce Benson originally proposed eliminating six middle school math coaches and nine elementary school math specialist positions in addition to custodial position cuts. A majority of School Board members opposed such cuts at budget work sessions.

With the adopted budget, all the middle schools will now share math coaches and four elementary schools will continue to share math specialists.

School Board member Scott Hirons cast the sole dissenting vote.

“These cuts are directly affecting the classroom, and that is something in good conscience that I can’t vote for,” Hirons said. “I don’t think we went far enough in other areas to find savings.”

Hirons wanted to find cuts elsewhere to save all of the math coaching positions.

The cuts to the custodial staff will fall to those employees with fewer years of experience.

Scott Horan, assistant superintendent for facilities, told the board that the contractor who already provides some custodial services to the schools has expressed willingness to hire the cut custodians.

In order to set the balances straight after Benson’s original cuts were changed, the School Board will use year-end savings from this year to make required textbook purchases. A hiring freeze will be implemented at the central office and the employer premium contribution to the health benefits fund will be reduced. That reduction will diminish the reserve in the health benefits fund from which employee and retiree claims are paid.

The rest of the cuts that Benson originally proposed to fill the gap were kept.

Those cuts included eliminating salary increases, additional positions, position upgrades, principal intern positions, two instructional leadership positions at the division’s administrative office and eliminating an early retirement incentive program. The board also cut $2.4 million in infrastructure projects, $2 million in computer and software equipment and decreased the number of replacement buses from 10 to five.

Another $3.6 million was saved by increasing the average class size by one student, which was the equivalent of cutting 55 teacher positions at an average annual salary of $66,000. The positions would be eliminated through attrition from retirements and resignations, and may potentially involve transfer of positions, according to school staff.

The School Board will also save $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.

The board will pay $100,000 for an efficiency review requested by Benson.

Hirons stressed that the schools will need to listen to changes proposed in the efficiency review.

“This has been a very difficult budget year for this board,” Vice Chair Holly Hazard said. “As bad as it seems now, I have hope for the future.”

The exact number of state funds that the schools will receive is still an unknown, and may force the School Board to find more cuts if the expected $2.3 million in additional state funds does not come after the state adopts its budget.

Vanessa Remmers: 540/735-1975


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