Friday, December 5–County School Board Disputes Exemption Report

BERLIN – Worcester County school officials yesterday resoundingly refuted a published report the Board of Education was seeking an exemption from the County Commissioners’ request for all departments to cut their requested budgets for fiscal year 2010 by 3 percent, stating certain comments were taken out of context and blown out of proportion.

The Daily Times yesterday reported the Worcester County Board of Education was asking to be exempted from the requested 3-percent budget cut, which would mean reducing by $2 million the school board’s spending plan. Faced with what will be a challenging budget year, the County Commissioners earlier this month requested each department, including the Board of Education, reduce their 2010 budget requests by 3 percent over the current year’s allocation.

While school officials acknowledge the 3-percent cut will likely impact the quality of the local public school system and its programs, the Board of Education has not requested any exemption from the request. However, the article published yesterday suggested the school board was prepared to request an exemption, quoting Board of Education president Garry Mumford as saying, “I will not allow it.”

Mumford said yesterday his comment was taken out of context, and that he merely meant to suggest he would not let the quality of the school system suffer regardless of the budget difficulties it faced. He said there has been no discussion at this point about seeking an exemption from the 3-percent cut.

“We haven’t done anything with that yet,” he said. “We’re at the very beginning of this process and we haven’t begun to formulate any plan to address the requested budget cuts. We certainly haven’t given any inclination we plan to ask to be exempted from this.”

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jon Andes also refuted the report the school board was seeking an exemption. Andes said the idea might have borne out of a public discussion of the individual schools’ budget requests on Tuesday, during which he explained what the commissioners were requesting. However, seeking an exemption was never suggested during the meeting, he said.

“No one on Tuesday, or at any other time, has said anything in regards to the 3-percent budget reduction request from the County Commissioners,” he said. “I explained to the people in the audience what the 3-percent reduction request meant, but there was never any talk of asking for an exemption.”

Andes added, “None of the board members, or anyone on staff including myself, made any statements regarding our compliance with the request of the county commissioners,” he said. “We’re taking the month of December to review our entire existing budget to try to find ways to defer some expenditures for two years and to reduce other items altogether.”

In his weekly-published column on Board of Education issues, Andes laid out the challenges facing the school board budget, suggesting the estimated $2 million budget cut could turn out to be more like $4 million when anticipated increases in certain areas are factored in.

“The end result will be a reduction far greater than 3 percent,” he wrote. “…while we recognize this is a difficult economic time, we ask our state and county elected officials to simply maintain the excellent educational programs and services our community has worked so hard to put in place.”

Andes said yesterday his comments should not be construed to mean the school board is asking the county to maintain the school system’s current level of funding.

“We’re at the very early stages of working on our budget,” he said. Right now, we’re pulling it apart to see where we can find potential savings.”