LA PLATA, Md. (Oct. 30, 2008)—The Charles County Board of Education unanimously approved $4.35 million in cuts to its fiscal year 2009 budget Monday evening to meet a 3 percent reduction imposed last week by the Charles County Commissioners.
Reductions include a hiring freeze that has been in place since early summer, elimination of fund balance reserves and a decrease of the transportation budget.
Superintendent James E. Richmond told the Board the changes require internal job realignments and eliminates available fund balance reserves; however, it limits direct impact to the classroom and students. The cuts are one-time resources and permanent base reductions, if needed, will be determined during the fiscal year 2010 budget development next year.
The school system plans to maintain a hiring freeze, put in place this summer, on 32 vacant positions for the remainder of the fiscal year. Richmond said normal procedure when a vacancy occurs is for staff to evaluate the positions and realign when appropriate. Workload responsibilities from the positions, 27 of which are based at the Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building, have been temporarily transferred to other staff or suspended. Reduction to the budget from the hiring freeze is $1.6 million.
Richmond told the Board that the cuts, especially personnel, could begin to strain operations and staff. Each position, and its impact on the school system, employees and the classroom, will be evaluated at the end of the school year. "Employees who have been asked to take on more work have been understanding and recognize the need to absorb the additional workload," Richmond said.
Fund balance reductions include elimination of reserves set aside for other post employment health insurance benefits (OPEB), the digital classroom and special projects for emergency repairs. Fund balance reserve reductions total $2.375 million.
"We recognize the importance of providing funding for retiree health benefits in the long term. The school system took steps last fiscal year to establish and partially fund an OPEB trust. If we have savings available in the health insurance program at the end of the fiscal year, we may recommend replacement funding. We are still committed to providing health insurance benefits to our retired employees," Richmond told the Board.
The digital classroom reserves are set aside to match federal funding for the classroom technology, which is a component of the school system's technology and instructional vision for the next new high school. However, the new high school, which will house the digital classroom, may not be completed in the original time frame. "The school system will work hard to find replacement resources for this project if it is ultimately approved," Richmond said.
The cuts also include a $375,000 reduction of the transportation budget. The budget includes an estimate of $5.50 per gallon for diesel fuel. The average price, so far this school year, has been less than $4 per gallon. The reduction is the savings already realized this school year due to the recent and steady decline of diesel fuel prices.
Richmond told the Board that he endorsed the cautious approach to managing these cuts. "Our first priority is to limit impact to the classroom and to maintain high quality services and support to our students, classrooms and teachers. I believe we have accomplished that objective. Hopefully, there will not be any more cuts this year," Richmond said.
Source: Charles County public school system