Carroll County school officials were informed on Dec. 19 of last year that the state would cut the school system’s budget for Fiscal Year 2009-2010 by $1.93 million. Additionally, Carroll schools were told on Dec. 31 of last year that the state reduced $120,000 of this year’s funding.
To help ease the pain of next year’s budget cuts, Carroll County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Greg Smith requested on Jan. 12 that the Carroll County Board of Supervisors roll surplus funds from 2008-2009 into the school budget. The board tabled the matter until its Feb. 9 meeting.
In the meantime, Smith said the school system is doing its best to brace itself.
“We don’t know yet what support we can expect from the Board of Supervisors, and in light of not knowing we are preparing for a worst-case scenario. In that respect we are reviewing every department we have and scrutinizing every one of those details in light of the enormity of the budget cut,” Smith said. “The prospect of job loss is present. Of course we are going to be searching every venue, every possibility to try and avoid that action and we certainly hope if job loss is a necessary action that it can be minimized as much as possible.”
In addition to the $1.93 million cut in state aid to Carroll County, Governor Tim Kaine’s proposed budget also seeks to establish a statewide cap on certain funded Standard of Quality (SOQ) support positions. It also seeks to eliminate the school construction grants program, a loss of lottery funding that Carroll could contribute for its debt service, resulting in more than a $900,000 loss for Carroll County to make up in the current year’s budget.
“Those are very large numbers and those are funds we will sorely miss. In terms of the debt service funding, those monies will have to be returned from other areas of the budget,” Smith told the Carroll County School Board during its Jan. 13 meeting.
Smith warned the school board the proposed budget also includes the creation of a one-time funding loss cap.
“It has been put in place for this year’s budget in planning for next year for a stop-loss. That means it is limited to $403.90 per student based on the Governor’s plan based on a stop-loss,” Smith said. “The calculation has been made for the number of students we have and the money we can project for the future. That puts a limit on the amount of money. That money can be recalled and we would have to comply with that debt loss policy, $538,000 in stop-loss. If that money is recalled, that is money we would also have to make up. We hope that doesn’t happen but it is a possibility. That is over and above the $1,930,000 we project as money lost for next year.”
As for the loss of $120,000 in funding for this year, Smith said it is hoped that much lower fuel costs than what the school board budgeted for could help cover the shortfall.
Smith said it appeared a $1.93 million state cut looks like the best-case scenario for now, noting it could be almost $2.5 million.
A proposed change in the state’s funding formula for support costs would also result in a dramatic decrease, Finance Manager Tammy Quesenberry told the school board.
“That’s not a one-time hit but a change in formula,” she said.
School Board member Harold Golding recalled attending a meeting where Gov. Kaine once claimed he would never cut education.
“Do you remember that?” Golding asked. “He’s in total control now.”
Smith told the school board he sent a statement to staff on Jan. 5 asking them to understand and comprehend the proposed budget cuts and how it will impact Carroll.
“I have received quite a few responses. I asked them for their thoughts and received many responses. They are valid ones,” Smith said. “This is not a closed process. I encourage people to come forward and help us with this process.”
Referring to the bailouts of Corporate America and the automobile industry, Golding said the Carroll County School System could use a little help as well.
“Who do you think will help bail us out? Everyone else is looking for bailouts,” Golding said. “We need some help.”
Smith told The Carroll News that his office will continue to communicate with local legislators to make sure they know the needs of the county and school system. So far, he said local legislators have received those needs in a positive way.
“Hopefully we’ll see some relief in the form of changes in the Governor’s proposed budget. Our hope is we have surplus funds that the Board of Supervisors will allow us to roll over and it may be of some benefit,” Smith said. “ We feel good that the board received the request positively and that there appears to be the prospect that the surplus may be able to help us in 2009-2010 to bridge some of the funding gap.”
Regardless, Smith said it is going to be a very challenging budget season and that everyone from the county to the school system to the Carroll Educational Association and parents will have to work as a team to ensure that the Carroll County School System emerges as a strong school system.
“An important component to this is that we emerge as a strong school system that will continue to have a vibrant instructional program,” Smith said.