Commissioners Suggest Efficiency Study For Schools

SNOW HILL — Worries over finances next year have Worcester County Commissioners already looking to the fiscal year 2013 budget, despite the fiscal year 2012 budget still being worked on.

One possible suggestion from the commission to help weather the expected trouble next year is for the Board of Education to establish an “efficiency committee,” a request that Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jon Andes agreed would be taken into consideration.

“We were very effective at the county level,” said Commissioner Virgil Shockley.

Shockley pointed out that the efficiency committee the commissioners established this year was an overwhelming success. Comprised of county employees, Shockley said that after forming the committee suggestions for how to be more efficient with resources flooded in immediately. While many of suggestions were duplicates, Shockley was still impressed by the 65 or 70 unique suggestions that he says made their way to the commissioners.

While the exact amount of money saved by the efficiency committee wasn’t known, Chief Administrative Officer Gerald Mason estimated, “It’s a big number, like $300-$400,000.”

While he wasn’t sure if the school board could whittle that much from its budget next year, Shockley does hope that officials at least implement their own efficiency committee with the same general goals. Shockley pointed out that the commissioners knocked nearly $100,000 more off their budget at a review last week, going so far as to remove budget items in the hundreds of dollars, not just thousands and tens of thousands.

“That’s what I’m looking for from the Board of Education,” said Shockley.

Shockley suggested the school board also try and pool more costs and resources with the rest of the county.

The board already does a lot of pooling internally with everything from cell phone minutes to copier usage, according to a report issued to the commission. But Shockley felt that things could be taken a step further. In his opinion, it might be worth looking into having the county and the school board pool costs on things like office supplies, custodial supplies and other generic needs.

“Everything has to be looked,” said Shockley. “You have to try to save everything you possibly can save.”

Commissioner Louis Gulyas suggested the school system follow the county’s example and invite employees to form efficiency committees for individual schools.

“It’s going to have to come from within,” said Shockley.

Andes shared the commission’s worries about finances next year. But he pointed out the board already has severe budget reduction and cost avoidance plans in place. According to Vince Tolbert, Board of Education finance executive, the board has been making cuts and decreases since 2009.

In a report he presented to the commission, Tolbert outlined some of the recent cuts, including decreasing capital outlay by 75 percent, technology and equipment by 50 percent, textbooks and classroom supplies by 27 percent and teacher staff development by 20 percent.

Andes promised that any additional ways to save money would always be explored.

“We understand the challenges for next year,” he told the commission. “We want to be part of the solution.”

Even with the board already working on cutting costs, the commission stressed that even more effort would have to be made for next year.

“Next year is going to be bad news,” said Commissioner Madison Bunting.

Shockley added, “I’m not panicking, but I’m damn well planning. We’re all in quicksand. Everybody’s got to help each other out.”