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Mecklenburg County schools eye $600,000 boost with new budget / April 24, 2013
The Mecklenburg County School Board is seeking a nearly $600,000 boost in the budget to pay for new buses and raises for instructional staff, among other priorities that Superintendent of Schools James Thornton outlined for trustees this week.

Thornton told the School Board and parents that the 2013-14 budget, which begins July 1, “is designed with the instructional focus necessary to meet the goals that we have for our children.” He also laid out his seven “major budget priorities” for the 2013-14 cycle. They include:

Make a 1 percent contribution to the Virginia Retirement System, a step that was mandated last year by the General Assembly to overcome a shortfall in the state employee pension fund.

Take out a lease for 10 buses at a cost of $220,000.

Create a new Central Office position that will focus on secondary instruction and Career and Technical Education, at a cost of nearly $80,000 plus benefits.

Provide a 2 percent pay increase for all instructional staff. The raises would cost $460,000, with roughly $250,000 coming from the state of Virginia. Mecklenburg County would be required to come up with the remaining amount.

Install additional paved lots at each of the elementary schools at a cost of $124,000.

Increase the pay for bus and car drivers by 5 percent.

Pay $80,000 in additional dual enrollment fees.

According to Thornton, the total cost to fund these seven priorities is nearly $1.1 million.

Thornton identified areas where school spending could be cut to pay for higher priorities. They include: eliminating one administrative position, an assistant principal; eliminating ten teaching positions including a special education teacher and a reading specialist; reducing technology expenditures and the stipend paid to teachers for the HEROES program.

At the same time the schools will spend an additional $100,000 for purchased health and fiscal services under the proposed budget.

Even with cuts, Thornton projects a gap of expenditures over revenue of $465,235. There are several factors affecting revenue forecasts this year. Mecklenburg County student enrollment is declining. This translates into fewer dollars from the state. Federal funding for programs is decreasing. Finally, the school division will not receive the additional appropriation from the state of $254,371 to pay for salary increases without a local match.

The General Assembly budgeted a 2 percent pay increase for positions tied to Virginia’s Standards of Quality, which encompasses most teaching jobs. Support positions — in areas such as administration, maintenance, transportation and guidance — are typically not SOQ-funded.

One education program that could see a significant jump in funding under Thornton’s proposed budget is dual enrollment. Funding for dual enrollment classes jumps nearly $250,000. Another educational program where spending jumps significantly is for algebra readiness. Thornton is proposing to spend $73,240 for 2013-2014 compared to $50,000 the year before.

Little additional money is dedicated to other instructional programs. Some even see a decrease in the proposed budget. The Bluestone robotics program suffers a major blow. It is facing a 50 percent budget cut, down to $10,000 for the year.

Project-based learning (PBL) will expand from the sixth grade into the fifth, seventh and ninth grades beginning with the 2013/14 school year. However, the budget does not reflect any additional expenses associated with this initiative.

In a handout Thornton prepared for School Board trustees at their meeting Wednesday, he outlined what might happen if the Board of Supervisors fails to fully fund the school’s budget as proposed. The division would be unable to fund four of his priorities: the 1 percent VRS contribution for teachers, the new bus leases, paving at the elementary schools, and pay raises for bus and car drivers.

Trustees had little to say about the budget after it was presented for their review. A vote on the package by the School Board is scheduled for May 13 at 9:30 a.m.

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Thanks Susan for a good report keep it coming! With Thornton.... We are headed down hill like a snowball headed for......

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