Chesterfield County Public School Superintendent Marcus Newsome’s proposed budget, which includes the elimination of 225 instructional positions, drew reactions from throughout the community last week.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Jan. 26, Newsome and T. David Myers, assistant superintendent for business and finance, presented the proposed spending plan. The total proposed operating budget for fiscal 2011 is $546.6, which is about $26 million lower than the fiscal 2010 total.
The major cuts would be a 3 percent pay cut for employees at grade 43 and below, including teachers, and a 4 percent pay cut for employees at grade 44 or higher, including system administrators, Newsome said, which would cut about $10.8 million from the budget. Newsome has asked for a 7 percent cut to his salary. The salary reductions include eliminating six workdays for school employees, he said.
The proposed budget calls for 225 instructional positions to be cut, along with 79 non-instructional positions, including six in the central office. Eliminating the positions would cut about $14.3 million from the budget, according to information from the county.
The budget also calls for a $500,000 reduction in energy construction, a $250,000 cut in conference travel and a 6 percent reduction in the county’s contributions to the Appomattox Regional Governor’s School and the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School, which equates to $235,000.
Earlier this month, officials detailed how falling state and local tax revenues and funding levels could create a roughly $42.7 million revenue shortfall for the school system. Newsome’s proposed cuts total $26.4 million, he said, roughly $16 million less than the projected shortfall. School officials hope “we will see additional resources” as they continue to work with county officials, he said.
“I believe that what we are proposing is necessary,” he said. “To cut more than this $26 million would put our priorities at risk, in terms of student achievement.”
But, officials have identified an additional $16.5 million in cuts, including another 175 positions and another 1 percent pay cut for all employees, that would be implemented if additional funding doesn’t materialize, Myers said.
Newsome said he was somewhat confident “we will be in a better position when this is done than we are today,” and he thought county officials would consider returning all of the school system’s $12 million in savings from previous years next year. Newsome has also asked the county to fund schools at the current 61.3 percent of tax collections and increase the real estate tax rate to a revenue-neutral level.
Newsome’s proposed budget was presented to the School Board at its Jan. 26 meeting. At that meeting, Myers said “there is a giant amount of work yet to be done” on the spending plan.
“We need to all collectively remember, this is step one,” he said.
Newsome said everyone knows there will have to be budget cuts, but “at some point, we need to draw the line of what we think is reasonable.” Budget discussions often focus on numbers, School Board Chairman David Wyman said, but he hoped school quality would be part of the conversation.
Several members of the public took to the podium to share concerns about or opposition to Newsome’s budget. Lou Tetreault, the president of L.C. Bird High School’s band boosters, said residents should not make it easy for the General Assembly or the Board of Supervisors. There are ways to raise revenue, he said, and, if the supervisors won’t, “then make the impact of their decision stark and clear.”
Frank Cardella, president of the Chesterfield Education Association, said 96.6 percent of the proposed budget reductions directly involve employees.
“That doesn’t sound like partnership, or investing,” he said. “It’s balancing the budget on the backs of employees and the children they care for.”
On Wednesday, a healthy crowd of parents, teachers and some students braved the cold to participate in a “Rally for a Quality Community,” which was led by the Chesterfield Education Association and the Chesterfield County Council of PTAs. Chants of, “Cuts hurt kids,” “Save our jobs,” “Quality education” and other phrases filled the air.
A number of people, including former School Board member Dr. James R. Schroeder, spoke at the event.
“If we put young people out in the community without a 21st century education, we are condemning them to failure,” Schroeder said. The dollars spent on education are well spent, and “there’s nobody that doesn’t benefit from Chesterfield County Public Schools,” he said.
At a joint meeting of the School Board and Board of Supervisors Friday, Supervisors Chairman Dan Gecker said the board was committed to returning the school system’s roughly $12 million in savings from previous years “when the School Board demonstrates it can provide a balanced budget.” The schools are asking for more money than they were allocated to make up a mostly state-caused funding issue, he said, and more won’t be allocated “without complete agreement on how it will be spent.” He said he was disappointed the “school division went to classroom teachers first” to make cuts.
Wyman thanked Gecker for clarifying the savings issue, and said the school system is looking at a five-year horizon for its budget.
“We want to make sure that what we do this year is sustainable,” he said.
Near the close of the session, Newsome said, aside from salaries and benefits, which make up 77 percent of the budget, there is only another 2.5 or 3 percent of the budget “where we really have any discretion.”
“You cannot balance this budget without going to the salaries and benefits, unless there are some resources outside of that pie,” he said.