Schools Seek Compromise On Fund Transfers

SNOW HILL – Just hours after the Worcester County fiscal year 2010 budget was officially approved, the Worcester County Commissioners voted to allow the Board of Education to move money from textbooks and classroom supplies back into instructional salaries.

The commissioners are responsible for funding levels in the 13 school budget categories. The Board of Education cannot move funds between categories without commissioner permission.

Last week, the commissioners moved $565,000 from the instructional salaries category of the school budget back into textbooks and classroom supplies, which also includes materials of instruction.

Before the budget had been officially struck this week, the school board sent a letter offering a compromise to the commissioners.

On Tuesday afternoon, after the budget was approved, the commissioners allowed the school board staff to briefly make their case for the transfer of some funds back into salaries.

The commissioners had originally taken $565,00 from instructional salaries for the classroom supplies, citing testimony from the public budget hearing in early May asking for money to be put back into the classroom supplies and materials of instruction.

The school board originally reduced the classroom supplies and materials of instruction funding in the school budget.

The commissioners felt that less money in salaries would not impact teachers or educational assistants, thinking that the elimination of 10 positions as promised by the school board budget and teacher retirements would eliminate any funding gap.

According to the letter from Dr. Jon Andes, superintendent of Worcester County schools, the money move would “place current successful programs at risk and require additional staff reductions through layoffs beyond those already being implemented.”

The schools decided to eliminate 10 more positions and reduce contractual services to make its compromise work.

The major change would increase instructional salaries by $415,000, with $299,000 taken from textbooks and classroom supplies, and the rest from reductions in instructional support services, other instruction costs, and operation of plant.

The textbooks and classroom supplies category, which includes materials of instruction, would be funded at 86 percent of the fiscal year 2009 level, under the school board’s proposal.

Earlier in the day, Commissioners Judy Boggs and Virgil Shockley voted against discussing the transfers proposed so soon after the budget was struck.

Commissioner Bobby Cowger suggested, after the budget approval, that the official budget letter be sent to the school board that morning, before lunch, to allow staff to look it over. The question would then be considered after the lunch break.

“I think that’s too early to readdress any other issue,” said Commissioner Judy Boggs.

Mistakes were made previously because of rash action, Boggs said, adding that the school board should come back to the commissioners after further study to better understand the impact of the proposed funds transfer.

“We want to be able to think and plan and strategize,” she said.

“To me that’s micromanaging,” said Cowger. “That’s not our job.”

“It has nothing to do with micromanaging,” said Boggs, wondering aloud how he came to that conclusion from her previous remarks.

“The errors of the past were made because we moved rashly,” said Boggs.

The school budget would stay the same, said Commissioner Bud Church.

“The teachers in the classrooms need to have supplies,” said Shockley.

“That was our point. We wanted to make sure the instructional materials and supplies and textbooks were fully restored,” said Boggs.

At the public budget hearing, support for the Maintenance of Effort budget was strong, school board Finance Officer Vince Tolbert said. That budget total stemmed from a state law preventing local jurisdictions from reducing education funding below the per-pupil amount approved the previous year. In Worcester’s case, the Maintenance of Effort budget was below last year’s total because the student enrollment declined. However, it was still significantly higher than what some County Commissioners had sought when they approved a 3-percent cut for all county departments months ago.

At last month’s budget hearing, people did not support that budget without caveats.

“At that same meeting, they also said they wanted their materials of instruction,” said County Commissioners President Louise Gulyas.

The commissioners voted 6 to 1 on a motion made by Church to make the transfers between budget categories as requested by the school board.

Boggs dissented, saying, “I always feel that a vote that is well considered and thought out is the best vote. I felt in this case we should sit down and talk together and think about it.”