‘Get ready for rough ride’

Published 11:06 pm Thursday, December 18, 2008

FRANKLIN—Gov. Tim Kaine announced his plan Thursday to cover an expected budget shortfall of nearly $2.9 billion through 2010.

The plan includes 1,500 state layoffs, a 30-cent increase in the state cigarette tax, cuts in health care and public education and the use of $500 million from the state’s rainy day fund.

Local officials are taking a wait-and-see approach to determine exactly how Franklin City Schools will be affected.

Mayor Jim Councill said the city anticipated a decrease in school funding, but he isn’t sure yet how it will all pan out.

“We knew that severe cuts were coming, but it’s way too early to try and forecast the impact of these cuts,” he said.

Councill said local school systems have to look to city funding to help them when state governments make cuts.

“We will be working in our budget before the schools probably know what will happen,” he said. “The city will have to be flexible and make adjustments as needed.”

Reached by phone on Thursday, interim school Superintendent Bev Rabil said educators from across the state were gathering in Richmond today to discuss what the cuts could do to local school systems.

“After that meeting, I’ll have a better idea of what this may mean for Franklin schools,” said Rabil.

Franklin High School Principal Sam Jones said he was not caught off guard by the announcement.

“I am very much concerned, but not surprised,” Jones said. “Education across Virginia is taking such a great hit. I hate that this is happening.”

Jones says regardless of the budget cuts, the standards of educating Franklin’s children will remain the same.

“We will still have to hold the standards high,” he said. “We will just have to do it with fewer funds, fewer people and fewer resources. That’s where the challenges that lie ahead are.”

Although spared in the three previous rounds of cuts, schools were hit hard by Kaine’s proposal with a suggestion to reduce that part of the budget by $400 million. Most of the savings would come from cutting funding for schools’ support personnel, including psychologists, clerical workers and curriculum specialists.

“I propose an adjustment in how the state funds educational support positions,” Kaine stated.

While Kaine cited central office and curriculum specialists as examples, it’s still not clear exactly which localities may lose non-teaching staff positions and what positions may be eliminated.

In a prepared statement, Kaine said this is a tough time for all Virginians and many would be called upon to make changes.

“We meet in a time of tremendous challenge for the Commonwealth and its citizens. The national economic recession is being felt by families and businesses across the country,” Kaine said. “As citizens and businesses have to tighten their belts and live within their means, state governments must do the same. This is a time for calm resolve to make tough decisions that will position us for a better future.”

“All we can do is fasten our seat belts and get ready for a rough ride,” said Mayor Councill.