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Thornton warns of more education cuts as fiscal situation worsens

SoVaNow.com / December 22, 2010
Mecklenburg County schools must squeeze an additional $146,504 from the current year’s budget to end up in the black, superintendent Dr. James Thornton told School Board trustees at their December meeting.

The latest shortfall comes from budget changes Gov. Bob McDonnell proposed Friday.

Next year’s state funding woes also have worsened, leaving the school with an additional shortfall of almost $2 million, about twice the gap school administrators had anticipated earlier.

Closing Buckhorn Elementary School, a proposal trustees are expected to vote on in January, would yield only $912,056. Additional cost cutting or more revenue from other sources would be needed.

Thornton said the budget for 2011-12 previously adopted by the state called for $750,000 in new budget cuts, coupled with a $274,000 increase in retirement plan contribution costs.

The governor is proposing changes that would result in the county schools losing an additional $1.2 million in 2011.

Most of the hit would come by removing previously promised money that would protect affected counties from a change in the state formula that determines school funding. Mecklenburg would lose $748,244 as a result.

In addition, the governor is recommending retirement fund contribution changes that would cost $674,400.

The grand total is $1,916,941, Thornton said.

“There are signs the economy is getting better, but the state of Virginia is not indicating that with its budget,” he said.

In addition to closing Buckhorn, the school division would be faced with making additional cuts, he said.

The superintendent is currently recommending cutting nine central office positions, two administrative assistants at the high school and middle school level, and four teachers.

In a statement Tuesday he said the proposed cuts are preliminary, since the budget is still being developed.

These are preliminary cuts as we are working on a budget for next year.

“These are very challenging times for all of society and k-12 education is being cut and being cut drastically. This types of cuts have usually been avoided at the k-12 education level. However, the reality of this budget crisis is finally hitting everyone including our children.

“People will make suggestions to cut athletics, arts, programs, and other extra-curricular opportunities. Positions will be cut before we cut an opportunity for a child. We will develop a budget with the goal in mind of still offering all the opportunities we currently have for our children,” he wrote.

During the action portion of the meeting, trustees voted to accept an unsolicited proposal to design a new consolidated high school, consolidated middle school, and renovate and build additions at Chase City, Clarksville, and La Crosse Elementary Schools. Each elementary school would have a 600 student capacity.

Branch and Associates Inc., MBAJ Architects, and OWPR Architects and Engineers submitted the proposal. Accepting it enables the school division to receive other unsolicited proposals and to solicit proposals from other firms.

Debra Smiley and Sandra Tanner voted no.

During board member comments, trustee Carol Bowman commented that she was impressed with a presentation given by two New Beginnings students who told how the program has helped them become better students, stay out or trouble, and realize that the decisions they make will determine the person they will become.

Bowman said he thinks the schools are doing “less writing off of students.”



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