By Brent Wilson, Field Officer
At the July 23rd meeting of the Greene County Board of Supervisors, Andrea Whitmarsh, Superintendent of Schools gave them some great news – the schools have underspent their FY13 budget by approximately $350,000. This is subject to receiving final invoices and having the financials audited.
Whitmarsh went on to explain how the underspending was accomplished. Stimulus funds were consumed, medical funding was tapped out, a favorable variance of $130k of utility cost was realized, the state costs being pushed to Greene County came out at $438k instead of the $5-600k estimated cost due to lower than expected growth (1% vs. 3%) and finally other projects were delayed.
After the meeting Superintendent Whitmarsh provided more detail on how the savings were realized and at what risk. Maintenance projects have continued to be delayed. These include significant concrete repair and parking lot paving of $30k to hundreds of thousands; windows for the Tech Center, roof repairs/replacements (just last week Nathaniel Greene Elementary had buckets on the floor catching rain leaking from the roof), building controls replacements at Ruckersville Elementary for a total of $138K; and a cooling tower at William Monroe Middle School (this school was without AC for a month this summer – it was repaired to buy time but needs to be replaced) at a cost of $80k to $100k
In addition to the maintenance deferrals listed above, many instructional projects were pushed back.
– Substitute teacher costs cut by having other teachers give up their planning time/staff members use their day to cover $46k
– Delay of new computers (using PC’s 5-10 years) $30K
– Classroom funds for books and materials $20k
– Funds for field trips and instructional supplies $17k
– Tech Center tools, paint sprayer, mannequins, cookware $12k
– Delay of furniture (tables, white boards, custodial) $10k
– Training/prof. development on new state standards $10k
– Delay of classroom books $ 5k
– Extended learning program cuts $ 5k
To summarize, Whitmarsh and the staff of the school system enacted a hold back of 20% of non-personnel and transportation costs until late in the school year. However, the 20% was not spent along with other sources of funds and less costs being passed on from the state to Greene County.
Whitmarsh stated that these drastic measures were taken to ensure that the Greene County Schools did not have to come with hat in hand during the school year begging for additional funding like many local school districts had to do. “We only purchased what we absolutely cannot do without”, said Whitmarsh.
The school system gets an A+ for managing their budget effectively and returning $350k back to the taxpayers of Greene County. Chairman Jim Frydl stated that the school system takes a lot of heat to cut costs and he thanked Superintendent Whitmarsh and her staff for their effort in returning $350k to the general fund of the county.
But, what is the “cost” to the school system and Greene County for the reduced spending? After the meeting Superintendent Whitmarsh stated that 10% of the staff has been lost, many to other school districts this summer due to offers of better salary and benefits, especially to higher paying districts such as Albemarle County. Teachers, who have 5 or 6 years of experience, have left the county and will have to be replaced perhaps by new teachers without experience.
The delay of the maintenance items runs the risk of a higher cost when each item is fixed. The roof at Nathaniel Greene Elementary that wasn’t maintained during the school year is now leaking and will be required to be fixed – at a higher cost than it could have been maintained.
The cost for Greene County, as a whole, is that the reputation as a well managed county is losing some of its luster. Greene County has prided itself on managing its funds well and having a Reserve Fund to help go forward with projects at a time when other counties in the area are struggling.
While the short term result is an accountant’s dream – underspending a budget by $350k; the long term cost to the county may be hard to repair and, if not fully understood, will easily be expected to unrealistically be repeated if not properly analyzed.
As a retired accountant with an MBA and 30+ years of business experience making short term decisions without the foresight of the long term cost is penny wise. Each issue needs to be analyzed and the payback calculated to see what the most economical solution is – it may not be the least expensive in the current year.
Perhaps a truly zero based budget identifying all issues and prioritizing them would be the painful way to get everything on the table for the School Board, Board of Supervisors and the public to see.
Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.
The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.
Photo Credit: NBC29