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State budget woes will impact schools

The Middlesex County School Board is anticipating a hefty cut in state aid to county schools next year and is searching for ways to trim its upcoming 2009-10 budget, reported school superintendent Rusty Fairheart.

“Although no definitive information is available, it is widely believed that the state will reduce the overall education budget from 5 to 15 percent,” said Fairheart. 

“The school system will need to find ways to reduce expenditures for 2009-2010 without negatively impacting our instructional program,” he said. “Consequently, we are scrutinizing our daily operating procedures, staffing, contracts and energy costs. 

“All budget holders (departments) have submitted proposals that reflect decreased spending, and plans for staffing reductions if necessary,” he said.

Fairheart said he was not anticipating any new money from the Middlesex County Board of Supervisors. 

Fairheart asked if anyone had any suggestions.

Board member James Goforth said he does not feel the school system should consider eliminating sports to save funds. He noted several larger school systems in the state have eliminated minor sports, but for Middlesex this would not be cost effective.

“One way to raise some money would be to raise the cost of fees,” said Goforth. “I think we should raise driver education fees to offset the cost of gasoline.”

Goforth also suggested not putting any funds in capital outlay. “If this is the year we are going to have a reduction in staff, I don’t think this is the year to have buses or anything else in capital outlay.”

Goforth said there is talk of a stimulus package being available from the state to go toward school construction. He said the renovation of the east wing at Middlesex High School is the most vital need in school construction.

He said school officials need to start planning “right now” to have architectural drawings and other preliminary information available, because to receive state funding this information will have to be provided to the state within 30 days if the stimulus package is approved.

Goforth said he was in the Westmoreland County School System in the 1970s where he was involved in building a school using stimulus funds. “This [possible] stimulus package looks very similar to what we had then. If funds become available, I think as a board we need to say that we have one project that we have thought out and are ready to go forward.”

He also noted that one of the criteria for receiving funds is to promote energy savings. “The replacement of windows in the east wing would fall into that category.

“The other criteria is unemployment in the area,” Goforth continued. “I don’t think we have high enough unemployment here, but certainly we qualify for the energy savings. Another criteria is how quickly we can put it all in motion.”

The board also discussed changing the grading policy where pluses and minuses are no longer used, and where the grading scale for all schools is on a 10-point system.

Assistant school superintendent Rashard J. Wright said a grading scale task force is working to consider these changes. He noted that the plus-minus grading system is not being used consistently by teachers throughout the three schools. Wright said he and others feel strongly there needs to be consistency in the grading scale used at all county schools.

posted 12.10.2008

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