School board, City Council discuss budget

Published 8:32 am Wednesday, April 14, 2010

FRANKLIN—City Manager June Fleming would like to fund the city’s schools at the same level as the current year in her proposed budget for next year.

“I’m extremely committed to level funding, even if we have to make some reductions (in other areas),” Fleming said during a joint work session with the City Council and the School Board Monday evening.

The city’s contribution to the school district this year was about $4.8 million. While she hopes to level-fund the school district, Fleming said she and her staff are still working to balance the city’s budget for next year.

School Board Chairman Bill Scarboro said the board is doing its best to cut costs.

“There is no fluff in this budget,” he said.

Sharing services — among the city, the school system and possibly other surrounding districts entered the discussion as a potential cost-saving strategy.

Mayor Jim Councill said Franklin, and Southampton and Isle of Wight counties have worked to deal with the impact of the International Paper Co. mill closure, economic development and the Chowan River Basin Study.

“There is absolutely no reason that we can’t explore other options that make equally as good a sense, both financially and educationally,” Councill said. “Nobody’s got as much as they used to have, and every good idea ought to be put on the table.”

Fleming said she and school Superintendent Dr. Michelle Belle have been in talks about shared services and plan to proceed with a plan next year.

Belle presented a draft of her proposed budget to the School Board two weeks ago that calls for the elimination of 7.5 positions—all by not filling openings—as well as reductions to some programs.

Scarboro said the impact on instruction “is minimal,” noting that pupil-teacher ratios are expected to be even lower than current ratios in some classes next year.

“We know in our schools the lower that the pupil-teacher ratio is, the better the students perform on benchmarks and (Standards of Learning tests),” he said.

School Board member Edna King commended City Council for “doing an exceptionally good job in funding education.”

“It’s the school division that will sell this community more than anything else,” she said. However, King said the division’s successes needed to be better publicized and she asked the city to consider reinstating City Clips, a newsletter that was inserted in utility bills each month, and including information about the schools.

“People don’t know how successful this school division really is,” she said.

City Clips was eliminated as a cost-saving measure. Fleming said the city now communicates through electronic means that “are cheaper and sometimes free.”

“We found that City Clips was not as effective as other things that we’ve put in place,” she said. “We stand ready…have always been ready and will share all of those devices with you and anybody else.”

King said that she was still concerned that those without computers would be excluded.

Scarboro suggested the city consider giving the schools a wholesale rate for utilities instead of retail rates. He also said that a Drug Abuse Resistance Education/gang prevention officer is “desperately” needed at the middle and high schools.

“Having a police officer in the school completely changes the mindset of many students,” he said.

The budget wasn’t the only thing the two bodies discussed. School officials also updated council on the alternative education program, the graduation rate and the success of the 2.0 grade-point average requirement for student athletes.

“You’ll find out that the students are going to rise to the level that you set that expectation,” said School Board member Glenn Hopkins.

Councill said it was important for the two bodies meet to discuss the school system’s needs, even if the city couldn’t afford to provide the funding for certain things at this point.

“We need to know what your needs are because we’re in this thing together,” he told School Board members.