Superintendent introduces plan to address Hanover school budget deficit

Posted on Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Hanover County Public Schools is facing a smaller budget gap than expected for its next school year, but the shortfall is still in the millions.

Dr. Jamelle Wilson, superintendent, presented a plan Tuesday night that would close the budget gap.

Dr. Jamelle Wilson, superintendent, presented a plan Tuesday night that would close the gap and balance next year’s budget.

All funds in the proposal total $188,744,486. This consists of the general, textbooks, food services, and capital improvements funds.

Tuesday night’s presentation focused on the general fund, or day-to-day operating budget.

The $177,221,129 proposed general fund represents a 1.4 percent decrease from the current year’s $179.7 million.

Local funding would account for 49.4 percent of the general fund, and the state would contribute another 45.3 percent. Federal and other sources would make up the remainder.

In November, the Board of Supervisors established a reserve fund for school capital needs, which would be funded by taking the difference from this and each subsequent year’s debt service payments.

That difference in 2013-14 is $495,000.

Dr. Michael Thornton, assistant superintendent of business and operations, explained that that difference traditionally would become available for the schools’ operating budget. This year, however, that money will be set into a reserve fund, the precise mechanics of which have not yet been worked out.

Still, the school system was anticipating a budget gap between $6 million and $6.5 million, but the difference between the estimated 2013-14 base expenditures and base revenue sources now appears to be $5.4 million.

Wilson explained that this figure is based on the state budget Gov. Bob McDonnell proposed in December, as well as updated figures received from Hanover County government.

The budget proposal calls for no pay cuts, no employee benefit reductions, and no elimination of any instructional programs.

Thornton outlined several strategies to close the $5.4 million deficit.

This includes the use of the prior year’s fund balance, as well as raising tuition rates for students who are neither residents of Hanover nor children of school employees.

Students at The Hanover Center for Trades and Technology would be charged a $26 fee each year to chip in toward the costs of consumable materials.

The school system also intends to discontinue rebates for dual enrollment, Advanced Placement testing, and International Baccalaureate testing.

Wilson said that when these programs were implemented, the schools offered reimbursements for high scores as a way to incentivize participation. Now, students and families are familiar with the value of these programs.

The school system will continue to pay the cost of IB registration, however. The rebate elimination applies only to the exams.

Several currently vacant positions would be eliminated, totaling 5.3 full-time equivalent positions (FTEs).

The schools would also cut 6.5 FTEs at the School Board Office and 9 FTEs in custodial service staffing.

Thornton said that about 40 positions have been eliminated at the central office level since the recession began, and other staff members have absorbed those responsibilities.

The proposal to reduce custodial staffing comes from a recommendation made in an external efficiency review.

The budget recommends cutting 24 instructional staffing positions—12 at the elementary level and 12 and the high school level.

This is partially in response to a continuing, slight decline in enrollment, which has dropped another 132 students this year.

The pupil-teacher ratio at the elementary level would increase from 21.6 to 22.1, on average.

Thornton said they expect to achieve all position cuts through attrition and not layoffs.

Wilson said that the high schools are planning on adding a class period within the bell schedule, bringing the total number of available periods to eight. This change comes in response to more stringent graduation requirements.

McDonnell’s budget proposes contributing state funds toward 2 percent teacher raises. Wilson explained why Hanover is not participating.

Traditionally, Hanover County Public Schools gives raises either to all categories of employees or none. The governor’s proposal would only apply to teachers, instructional aides, principals, and assistant principals, not custodians, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, or other support staff.

Also, the state would only contribute a portion of the 2 percent raise. Hanover would have received $800,000 toward teacher raises. Giving that raise to all employees would cost $2.7 million, thereby adding $1.9 million to the 2013-14 base budget deficit.

The $800,000 would only be a one-time source, and, as local school officials understand the proposal, it would be contingent upon the passage of other education legislation in the General Assembly.

All together, since the economic recession began with the 2009-10 budget and up to the current 2013-14 proposal, the school system will have cut nearly $35 million in expenditures and 330 positions, or 11 percent of its workforce.

Wilson suggested that the school system and Hanover County continue to look at opportunities to consolidate services as an avenue toward greater efficiencies.

Grounds maintenance and fleet services are already consolidated. Wilson recommended finance and purchasing as another possibility to explore.

The School Board will hold a budget public hearing Tuesday, Jan. 22 at 7:30 p.m. This is a change from what has already been advertised (Jan. 15).

Budget work sessions have been scheduled for Jan. 24 and 31 at 6 p.m. Budget adoption is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 19 at 6 p.m.

The proposed 2013-14 budget is available for viewing on the school system’s website, hcps.us.

Finance officials leaving Hanover

At the start of her budget presentation, Wilson announced that two top budget officials are leaving Hanover this month.

Thornton has accepted the position of chief financial officer for Norfolk Public Schools.

Chris Sorenson, director of budget development, heads to Virginia Commonwealth University as the school’s associate director of budget.

Wilson commended the work of both men.

“[Their] expert knowledge and focus are unparalleled,” she said.

“We’ll miss them both, and certainly we wish them well as they both chart new territory beyond the boundaries of Hanover County,” Wilson said.

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