School officials answer questions about school budget

“We started around back in May when all of the issues began to affect the school system,” said FoFF leader Bill Sullivan. “We have two general objectives, to get people informed and to get people engaged.”

In line with their two objectives, FoFF held a question and answer session with school officials. Roughly two dozen people were in attendance at Thursday’s Q & A session following the school board’s budget work session on Nov. 1.

Q    When the original budget discussion came through the Board of Supervisors one suggestion from a Board of Supervisors member was that he level of detail provided by the school board was not enough information. Do you have plans for more detail in the future budget requests?

A “We specifically had every line and every change in the increase. If we removed things, there was a negative in there. There is line detail for all of the changes at all of the sites that explains the entire $1.4 million we requested. The detail in there wasn’t written in the format of expenditure documents. This wasn’t rocket science; this wasn’t even sand box science. I don’t know if [the Board of Supervisors] even opened the school board’s budget after it was adopted on May 14,” said Fluvanna County Public School Director of Finance Ed Breslauer.

Q     In the upcoming budget season there is speculation that the budget will be identical to fiscal year 2013, minus the $600,000 to open the high school. The Board of Supervisors is not going to change its stance on increasing the budget. How is the Fluvanna County School System going to meet that?

A “… We have over 500 employees. We have a new school … We’ve got to look at everything that was on that list and bring it back to the table. Closing Cunningham. Closing Columbia. Outsourcing custodial services … We want to be a system that attracts people that want to be here and stay here. But just to [return the benefits and pay we’ve cut from teachers] it would be $1.8 million. As we plan for next year, does it look like we’re throwing in the towel by planning for [a fiscal year 2013 budget]? Or are we being realistic? Or are we going to be told that we didn’t get it because we didn’t ask? … We are going to make this work. We’re going to be a flagship school system. I know we can do that. We’re just right on the cusp of that in lots and lots of ways. We would be naïve and totally foolish if we don’t plan [for a budget cut]. Because you know what happens if we don’t? We weren’t planning that way in February and March, and then we were shocked in May, struggling to keep a school system alive,” said Keller.

Q We hear a lot about cutting, closing, eliminating. What about leveraging our resources to generate revenue and offset deficits?

A “Yes, it can be done, but there are really strict parameters about how that money is used. As a public school system, we can’t fundraise,” said Keller. “There is no way to generate [reliable] revenue using buildings, like showing movies in the auditorium. It’s so unpredictable. We can’t pay people’s health insurance costs by hoping people give us the money. There are definitely ways to generate some revenue to go back into the buildings themselves, but what’s a little misleading is that a community can generate $300,000.” Director of Finance for Fluvanna County Schools, Ed Breslauer, followed up Keller’s comments. “If demographic studies show it would be viable to have a movie theater in Fluvanna, there would be a movie theater in Fluvanna, same with McDonald’s and all the rest. If we did everything we could, we would top out around $50,000,” said Breslauer.

Q What can we do in terms of funding? Can businesses sponsor classrooms? Recognizing that we can’t write a check to Fluvanna County Schools, what can we do?

A “Send money to schools,” said Keller. “Any of that helps. To me that’s where we can really make a difference. Dr. Mayfield purchased 1,000 glue sticks and sent them over to Carysbrook. When teachers go into a classroom there are things that they need and they are consumable. Connect with a building principal and ask them what you can bring. You don’t have to ask anyone, just send it. Do we want to continue operating like that? No, but if you’ve got an extra 10 bucks, give it to a school.”

Q When it comes to giving out the survey to staff, the least thing that they wanted was furlough days. If that is your staff’s least favorite choice, with the highest number of people against it, how is it still on the table? It calls into question the surveys. People feel like, “Why did you bother asking?”

A “You want people’s input and you want them to think with us,” said Keller. “Weighing in on a survey to consider or not to consider still doesn’t trump a decision that needs to be made by people who have to see it all.” Keller went on to elaborate that in August of 2010, the issue of furloughing teachers up to 10 days a school year was established as legal in Virginia courts. “The reason our lawyer is side by side with us is because when you mess with people’s contracts in the middle of the year, the rules are very different than if it’s the end of the year. We’re in uncharted waters. If we make a decision and go to court and we’re sued for being in breach of contract, we don’t know how that’s going to turn out. [Furlough] is the least legally risky … walking an educator out the door mid-year when the market is not looking for educators is a tough sell.” Assistant Superintendent Chuck Winkler concluded, “It wasn’t a vote, it was a survey.”

Q One of the biggest push backs we hear from the Board of Supervisors is that schools have enough money, they’re just not spending it properly. What do you say to that?

A “That is the epitome of what happens when there is grab n’ go data. You grab a piece of data that’s within easy reach and that becomes your reality. I’ve been in school long enough, and I’m old enough to realize that you can find anything out there to support a position that you chose to have. [You] have got to be focused on moving this system forward and stop being distracted. Don’t be distracted by the wrong stuff. Put your energy into facing those children. I can’t go up for public comment at Board of Supervisors meetings, but you can. And you don’t have to know the minutia of the budget. You just have to know what you want for your kids. You want good teachers, you want competitive benefits for them,” said Keller.

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