Isle of Wight school budget cuts 32 jobs

Published 8:55 am Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Isle of Wight County School Board on Thursday approved its $69 million 2010 budget, which will require cutting 32 support positions.

The budget represents a $1.9 million, or 2.7 percent, decrease from fiscal 2009.

Citizens packed the Robert C. Claud Sr. Board Room for a public hearing on the budget.

The concerns voiced by the dozen citizens who elected to speak focused primarily on the cut in support positions and the use of federal stimulus funds to offset cuts. The budget will eliminate 32 jobs, including seven library assistants and 14 special education assistants.

Sharon Hart, a resident of the Newport District, suggested making additional cuts to the school board’s operating budget and closing the division’s New Directions Alternative Center rather than laying off personnel. Hart also suggested that federal stimulus money be used to fund the assistant positions.

Annette Brooks, a library media specialist at Hardy Elementary School, said her library assistant is “indispensable” to the library’s operations.

Stephanie Bailey, president of the approximately 170-member Isle of Wight Education Association, said that the association recommends a salary freeze to offset financial difficulties – or even a pay cut of no more than 3 percent for all Isle of Wight school employees.

Bailey also implored the board to hold off on finalizing the budget.

“You have reason to review the $1.8 million that is supposed to come to this area” in stimulus money, she said.

Superintendent Michael McPherson said that clear guidelines have not yet been provided for the use of federal stimulus money by local governments and boards.

“After it comes in, we need to be careful as to the expenditures of those funds, because they will go away,” he said.

School board member Herb DeGroft, who represents the Hardy District, proposed postponing the budget decision until late March in order to allow stimulus money to come in and for a better understanding to be reached on its usage. The motion failed on a 4-1 vote.

DeGroft proposed multiple amendments to the budget, including eliminating the use of the electronic school board, reducing contracted services by 10 percent, purchasing fewer school buses and eliminating bottled-water usage in school offices. None of the amendments passed.

The board voted to approve the budget with a stipulation, proposed by Newport District representative T. Hayes Griffin, that the board could revisit the budget once any stimulus monies are received.

Despite a $1.4 million carryover from the previous two budget cycles, McPherson said the schools “will be lucky if we break even,” based on cuts that are expected in assistance from the county. When all of the cuts are taken into account, only $150,000 is actually being carried over.

School employees also will not receive a 1 percent pay increase that was slated for the current fiscal year. It was explained previously that the increase would have to be reconsidered if state funding decreased, said McPherson, who received a $4,000 pay raise during the fiscal year, a raise that was stipulated in a previous contract.

McPherson announced that he would be donating the amount of the pay raise to the Education Foundation of Isle of Wight Schools.

With the 1 percent increase eliminated, a step increase in pay for teachers and a 1.5 percent pay increase for support positions are in the plans for fiscal year 2011, officials said.