Tensions surface at IOW joint meeting

Published 8:48 am Wednesday, March 3, 2010

SMITHFIELD—Facing millions of dollars in reductions in funding, Isle of Wight County Schools officials say they have no choice but to cut jobs, reduce resources and close Windsor Middle School.

Steve Jenkins, the division’s director of operations, presented Superintendent Michael McPherson’s proposed budget Monday during a joint meeting of the School Board and the Board of Supervisors.

The $59.1 million proposed budget anticipates $2.5 million in state reductions — and will likely include even more state cuts before it becomes official.

Newport District Supervisor Stan Clark asked why the school division didn’t propose sharing services with the county to save money, especially since Jenkins is leaving to take a position with the city of Chesapeake and the county doesn’t have a human resources director.

“Seems like an optimal time to look at consolidating those two departments and saving $500,000,” Clark said.

However, School Board Chairman David Goodrich said the special meeting was advertised only to discuss the school division’s budget and not consolidation.

“You’re not precluded from discussing it under those circumstances, but if you don’t want to discuss it I understand,” Clark said.

However, he brought up the issue again.

“I’m under a lot of pressure to impute savings whether we do consolidation of services or not. As far as I’m concerned, I’m going to impute savings when we do our budget.”

Goodrich responded, “And by the same token, Mr. Clark, I don’t believe that you want to go on record as being anti-public education.”

Clark denied being “anti-public education” and said he is simply trying to save money through consolidation of services, despite the School Board being “absolutely … reluctant to do so.”

“My position is that you can consolidate probably at least three services with the county and fully do all your teacher reimbursements, retain all your library assistants and refrain from closing Windsor Middle School,” Clark said. “That’s anti-public education when your response is no to consolidation, but yet these three (are still on the table). I should see consolidation of services on this superintendent’s proposal and I don’t.”

Consolidated services have been on the radar in Isle of Wight for months. In December, officials from Pulaski County — where county government and the school system share a number of services — met with Isle of Wight officials to talk about Pulaski’s experiences.

Some School Board members, along with McPherson, aren’t convinced that consolidation would save money.

“No savings have been brought to the forefront on consolidating these services,” McPherson said. “Even the people you had come in from Pulaski indicated the same thing. Savings probably aren’t going to be there — even down the road.”

Goodrich said Pulaski officials said it cost the county money to implement shared services – and warned that it shouldn’t be rushed. He said the School Board simply wants more information.

“This board has not taken off the table any shared services,” he said.

McPherson’s proposed budget includes level funding of just over $26 million from the county. However, Board of Supervisors Chairman Phillip Bradshaw said, “That’s highly unlikely to happen,” considering state cuts in funding to the county. He also warned that the budget for fiscal 2012 will be even tougher.

“I hate to say it, but this is the easy budget,” Bradshaw said. “Next year is the hard budget.”

McPherson said the cuts would likely have an effect on the school system’s ability to meet state standards.

“The staffing we have in place now has enabled us to meet those standards, and as we start cutting back and the state cuts back on those positions and the staffing patterns that we’ve been using, you’re not going to see the same services provided to students and the same academic achievement from students,” he said.

However, officials said that there has been some movement in the General Assembly to relax some school standards and mandates because of the reduction in funding.

Bradshaw said the county has long prided itself on the quality of its school system, and he warned that “temporary changes and reductions in services” could take years to recover from.

The School Board will hold a public hearing on the proposed budget at 6 p.m. March 11 at the courthouse. Goodrich said a date for adopting the budget would be set later.