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Mecklenburg County schools eye loss of 51 positions

SoVaNow.com / April 21, 2010
Only one speaker came to the podium at Monday’s Mecklenburg County School Board budget hearing to comment on the proposed $43.5 million spending plan for 2010-11.

State revenue for the coming year will drop $5.5 million, causing cuts throughout the budget and the loss of 51 positions.

Kim Bober, instructor for homebound students, thanked the board for “doing the absolute best you can” in dealing with the financial crisis. She urged them to hire a finance director to “help take us through the budget process.”

The former director left Jan. 1. The proposed budget calls for leaving that position and several other administrative slots unfilled.

Trustees are scheduled to adopt the budget at a special called meeting 6 p.m. Thursday, April 29 at the central office.

In a final effort to save money and jobs, the board Monday voted to seek proposals for employee health insurance. In addition to seeking proposals providing self insurance.

Dr. James Blevins, financial consultant for the board, said he hopes that reinventing its health insurance program could save the board $300,000.

“The more players you have at the table, the better opportunity you’ll have to save money,” he said.

According to Blevins, continuing the current plans with Anthem would mean a $2.2 jump in health insurance. He said the apparent increase in cost is due primarily to an error that omitted a 10 percent rate increase for 2009-10 from the current budget rather than Anthem’s proposed 8 percent rate increase for he coming year.

Blevins will disqualify himself from review of the proposals. He disclosed that he is affiliated with a firm, Piedmont Community Health, which may submit a proposal.

School board attorney Brad King said the firm could do so as long as Blevins has disclosed and removed himself from involvement in reviewing the proposals.

King and school division business manager Jeff Jones have prepared the request for proposals.

The board also voted to ask for proposals from employee benefits consultants to assist the school division in evaluating bids. The consultant would be paid a flat fee.

Blevins advised the board not to offer an incentive in an effort to persuade some of the 90 eligible employees eligible for early retirement to leave.

“It would actually cost more for people to walk out the door than to stay,” he said.

He said that his analysis shows that employees who would leave are not ones whose positions could be eliminated.

A reduction in force (RIF) policy previously adopted by the board will determine, based largely on seniority, which positions will be cut.

About 30 positions will be RIFed, Blevins said yesterday. Attrition and non-renewal of contracts will account for the remainder.

At the close of the meeting, trustee Tommy Coleman commented: “We have got to get together and try to get some of these jobs back.”

Several board members thanked acting superintendent Carole Nelson, Jones, and the staff behind the scenes for their work in preparing the budget.

Wagstaff thanked the teachers for doing amazing things through years of minimal funding.

She commented that residents and officials should pressure the state to adequately fund public education.

Virginia is the eighth wealthiest state and is 33rd in per capita education spending, she said.

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