By Kelly Mae Ross
Cutbacks in the Buena Vista school budget will mean big changes for teachers and students if City Council passes a plan that will be submitted this week by the school board.
The proposed $10.6 million budget trims $408,000 from last year’s spending by moving eighth-graders to Parry McCluer High School, shifting grades between elementary schools, eliminating some teaching positions and saving money on transportation and maintenance.
A state-mandated change in employee retirement benefits caused more than half of the school district’s gap between expected revenue and expenses. The end of federal stimulus money, as well as the closing of a revenue-generating daycare facility and an online school program that also generated money for the district, widened the gap.
Despite the proposed cutbacks, Superintendent Rebecca Gates said she hopes to avoid any teacher or staff layoffs.
“I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished with so little,” Gates said.
Gates and administrators are avoiding layoffs by not filling the positions of teachers and staff who are retiring or resigning. Employees whose positions are cut will likely be transferred to unfilled jobs within the district, Gates said.
Eighth graders moving up
Parents, teachers and students had a chance to comment on the budget at a work session the day before school board vote.
At the session, parents and teachers voiced the most opposition to moving students between the Buena Vista schools.
Switching eighth-graders from the middle school to the high school would allow the board to eliminate a middle school teaching position. Some teachers at the high school would take on eighth-graders to make up for the loss. The shift would save the district $50,000, Gates said.
The teacher whose position will be cut may be transferred to the high school, Gates said, depending on how many high school teachers retire this year.
But some local parents oppose moving the eighth-graders.
“I know when I came into high school I was scared to total death,” said Michelle Roberts, the parent of an upcoming eighth-grader. “I can’t imagine trying to go, at that age, into high school.”
Elementary school switch-up
Parents and teachers at the meeting also reacted strongly to proposed changes at the area’s two elementary schools, Enderly Heights and F.W. Kling.
One of the two schools would now house the younger students and the other school would house the older students, Gates said.
It has not yet been determined which grades would be taught at which school. Right now both schools offer grades K-4.
“I am a fan of reconfiguration,” said Enderly Heights Principal Christine Woodward. “I think instructionally it’s a sound decision. It offers continuity.”
The moves would create a more stable work environment for teachers, Woodward said. With the way the schools are set up now, teachers sometimes have to switch grade levels as the number of students in each grade changes.
Switching grades would also allow another two positions to be cut, and save the district about $100,000. Gates said she hopes to place those teachers in open positions in the district also.
More changes on the way
Gates also recommended moving seven of the district’s special education students back to the Buena Vista middle school from special education centers in the area. This move is projected to net the schools $35,000 in state money that will come with the students, as well as save $5,500 in transportation costs.
An alternative education program will be developed to help those students move back, Gates said.
The board will cut maintenance and transportation costs further by consolidating summer school classes into one building and changing the bus routes to save on gas. Those changes will save the district $27,000, Gates said.
None of the changes are set in stone, said Darryl Knick, chairman of the school board, because Buena Vista and Virginia have yet to pass their own budgets. Those budgets will determine how much money the school district receives.
The tentative school budget is based on numbers from the Senate’s amended version of the state budget. The House of Delegates rejected that budget on Tuesday, which means the school board might have to rework its numbers.
The school board and administrators are also watching legislation that will change the way schools pay for teacher and staff retirements.
Gates said that if the benefit change is signed, she will need to go back and find nearly $100,000 in additional savings.
The proposed school budget was passed by a 5-2 vote at the March 22 school board meeting. Teresa Ellison and William Fitzgerald voted against the changes.
The city council will decide on the proposed budget by mid-April.
Another issue discussed at the budget work session was the status of the Buena Vista school district resource officer. A resource officer is a police officer who provides protection and educational services to students and teachers. Buena Vista school administrators were unsure, until recently, whether or not they would be able to fund the position next year.
[wpaudio url=”http://journalism.wlu.edu/audio/ROSSbvbudget29.mp3″ text=”Click here to listen to the audio story.”]
Click here for previous coverage on the resource officer position.