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School board continues to chip at budget

The Pulaski County School Board continues to chip away at its Fiscal Year 2010-11 budget in hopes of making up the estimated $3.9 million deficit it faces due to state budget cuts.
As of right now, the board has a long way to go.
Among the items discussed during Wednesday night’s budget work session was the school board’s intention to vacate its offices at the Allen Building, an energy usage review, and a review of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s grade configurations and class enrollments in preparation for a possible merging of the county’s two middle schools.
The school board is currently working with the county to secure a building that can be used for rent-free office space in anticipation of the school board vacating its current offices at the end of its lease. The preference is for a vacant building to be used.
"I have a problem with them (Pulaski County) putting money into a new building when we have empty buildings available," school board member Jeff Bain stated.
The school board, which currently leases the Allen Building on a month-to-month basis, is interested in finding new office space as soon as possible.
At a joint meeting Monday night, County Administrator Peter Huber suggested the Maple Shade complex, courthouse offices recently vacated by the Commonwealth’s Attorney, and even building offices in a courtyard at the County Administration Building.
"These searches need to have a sense of urgency," stated School Board Chairman Paul Phillips. "We need to expedite this process."
By relocating from the Allen Building to a rent-free location, the Pulaski County School Board would save an estimated $15,655.
Energy usage by county schools was also scrutinized by the school board.
"Electricity is a quarter-million dollar strain on the budget," Bain commented.
After reviewing energy costs over the last four years, it was revealed that the rates that Pulaski County schools are paying have risen approximately 55 percent.
One proposal the school board presented for cutting energy use is restricting gym usage by recreation teams.
"We need to take better control of our building use," said Phillips. "We can do a lot better than what we are doing in regards to collaborating the energy costs," with recreation leagues.
However, an all-out restriction of gym usage was quickly discarded.
"We can’t close the gyms just because school is closed," said board member Dr. Rodell Cruise. "There has to be room for flexibility."
Ronnie Nichols, director of operations and transportation, suggested the county fund an energy efficiency study for FY 2010-11. The cost for such a study would be a one-time fee of $30,000.
A list of preliminary budget recommendations was presented to the board for review. Among the recommendations, and the possible savings they would generate, were:
• Ten percent reduction in site-based funds per school ($33,676);
• Twenty-five percent reduction to coaching stipends, extra curricular sponsorships, cutting additional contract days in half, and the elimination of certain coaching positions and extra duty pay ($155,395);
• Elimination of School Resource Officers ($68,000);
• Twenty-five percent reduction to special programs, such as band, choral, art, music and physical education ($35,225);
• Twenty-five percent reduction in Governor School seats ($36,500); and
• Increasing tuition to Camp Cougar by $50, increasing activity fees and reducing the most expensive activities in hopes of programs achieving self-sufficiency ($12,000).
If all of the recommendations are adopted, and the school board is able to relocate from the Allen Building to a rent-free space, the board will have trimmed approximately $288,000 from the budget.
Of the remaining budget cuts to be made, "The greatest return (to the budget) can come through attrition," Phillips commented. Currently 11 of 63 eligible retirees have notified the board of their intention to retire.
The FY 2010-11 budget must be presented to the Pulaski County Board of Supervisors by April 8. The General Assembly will not have final budget numbers to reflect actual state cuts until March 13 at the earliest.

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