IWCS presents budget needs

Published 9:52 am Saturday, November 29, 2014

Buses, instructional staffing, maintenance, and technology staffing will be the four major areas for attention in Isle of Wight County School system’s budget for fiscal year 2015-2016. This consensus was reached by both school board members and the IWCS department heads during a retreat on Monday afternoon in the district’s central office.

Christina Berta, executive director of budget and finance, first gave an overview by noting that since fiscal year 2009, the total IWCS budget decline adds up to $8.1 million, with state revenue reductions totaling $3 million.

“Average daily membership is on the upswing,” Berta said about student enrollment, which she added has gone up by 128 students from FY 2008-2009 to FY 2014-2015. Coupled with that is the loss of 142 full-time employees from FY 2008-2009 to FY 2014-2015.

“This puts a strain on the workforce. We’re asking them to do more with less,” she said.

As for more state funding, Berta said she’s not optimistic. “They don’t have it to give.”

Laura Abel, assistant superintendent for Curriculum/Instruction and Administration, was the first to make the case for more funding to support instructional staffing, professional learning and classroom instructional resources.

An example of each includes, respectively, increased staffing on the secondary level to reduce class sizes; more funding for staff development to create alternative problem-based learning assessments; and adopting elementary math textbooks for fourth and fifth grades.

“We need to provide more to meet these needs,” she said. “Instructional staffing would like to add more staff at the high school level, decrease class sizes, and we need to raise academic rigor and leadership. We need to update, replace and service much of the equipment out there, and add a math diagnostic tool similar to PALS for the second grade.”

Superintendent Dr. Katrise Perera, who moderated the different budget discussions, said, “There are real needs for this division.”

Dr. Phil Jepson was the next to present his department’s wishlist. He is the executive director of Human Resources/Leadership Development and Operations. He wants $10,000 to make the transition from paper personnel files to the digital kind. Another $8,500 is requested to get a substitute teacher calling service that would ensure their availability. Jepson also asked for an HR technician to supervise all data entry.

Perera noted that Jepson’s third item has been on the budget for the past two years. Julia Perkins, chairwoman of the school board, suggested outsourcing.

When it comes to getting students to and from classes, Transportation Director Dr. Calvin Bullock said five new school buses are needed, with three for special education and two for general population. The cost would be $512,631.

He added that maintenance is becoming an issue for three existing SPED buses that date back to 1998.

“Keeping our fleet up to date also reduces our maintenance cost,” Bullock stated in his presentation.

He also asked for software that would automatically track and report the attendance and times for the bus drivers, which would replace the manual method. This would save time and paperwork not only for drivers, but also be compatible with the pay system.

“Everyone I have spoken with states that the software will pay for itself in about two years with the savings we will incur,” Bullock said.

“It will also increase accountability,” Jepson added.

Keeping the school buildings in working condition is another ongoing responsibility for IWCS. Anthony Hinds, manager of Financial Services and Procurement, anticipates increases in bills for electricity, water, sewage and waste removal.

“More students generate more trash,” he said.

In addition to service agreements, the generator at the new Georgie D. Tyler Middle School also has to be supported.

“Educating the public about these needs will be key,” Perera added.

A few years ago, iPads began to be phased in the classrooms. This brought additional needs and responsibilities to IT Services and Network Administration. Director Eric Cooprider asked for three more staff members to the existing seven personnel, which support 5,500 students and 750 staff members. The seven already take care of 1,500 networking devices, 3,200 mobile devices, 3,500 laptops and more than 25 computer labs.

Two of the three new personnel would be information services technicians, and the third a systems analyst to begin “customizing projects and expand service systems in the division.”

Cooprider also wants to increase management and automation systems, as well as expand security and monitoring systems.

The board members and department heads distributed at different tables discussed the presentations. Each group then ranked budget needs, followed by comparisons with the other clusters. Instruction was notably absent or lower on a few of the lists.

“It concerns me a bit,” Perkins said in review. “We’re in the business of instruction, and it has to be the primary focus for any school budget.”

As some people pointed out, school infrastructure also demands attention, which she “agreed to a certain point.”

The tally, listed at top, was made with no specific hierarchy.

Perera said all this would be shared with the public and teachers beginning with the board’s meeting in January.