School Board still working to prioritize budget requests

Published 5:28 pm Friday, March 17, 2023

Isle of Wight County’s School Board is still working on ranking its budget requests following a nearly two-hour March 14 work session.

Superintendent Theo Cramer proposed an $81 million budget for the 2023-24 school year, with $31.8 million, or 39.2% of the total, coming from county taxpayers. The local funding would amount to a nearly $5 million increase over what was given this year.

County supervisors, who will have the final say on how much local funding Isle of Wight County Schools receives, asked at a March 2 joint meeting of the two bodies that the School Board prioritize its requests. According to Board of Supervisors Chairman William McCarty, Cramer’s request would equate to a 10-cent increase in the county’s real estate tax rate.

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Cramer maintains that everything budgeted fulfills a specific need.

“I”m optimistic and hopeful that (the supervisors) find some moneys in their coffers to support everything that we’re asking for,” Cramer said.

But if they don’t, Cramer said he and the school system’s central office staff have started having conversations about what can be scaled back.

“We … do not get as much as most of our neighboring counties, so there is not a ton of fat,” Cramer said. “I want to be really careful about going in being hopeful that we can find quite a bit to cut.”

Cramer plans to present a prioritized list at another follow-up meeting scheduled for March 22.

McCarty had urged at the March 2 meeting that the School Board cut five new unarmed security guards from its budget request. School Board Vice Chairman Jason Maresh, however, contended at the March 14 meeting that the school security officers should take priority over two requested “dean of students” positions.

The deans, one for Smithfield High School and one for Windsor High School, would collectively cost $146,000 and are intended to handle student discipline, freeing up principals to focus on supervising teachers. Cramer said the deans were among the top requests of principals at Isle of Wight’s secondary schools; he proposed keeping them but reducing the number of security officers from five to three.

The School Board, as of March 14, was inclined to keep 20 first- and second-grade instruction assistants hired two years ago with soon-to-expire federal pandemic relief funds. To fund the positions for the coming school year would require an extra $645,120 in local funding, according to Cramer’s proposed budget.

Maresh, however, proposed cutting an additional preschool teacher and preschool instructional assistant. The two positions would collectively cost the school system $110,000.

School Board Chairman John Collick proposed cutting cafeteria monitors for the county’s five elementary schools, budgeted at $131,000 collectively.

“From me going around talking to a couple principals, several teachers … that didn’t seem to be a real concern,” Collick said.

Another budgeted item potentially on the chopping block is a new patient care technician career and technical education program. According to Deputy Superintendent Susan Goetz, delaying the program’s rollout to the following school year would save the school system the $80,000 budgeted for the patient care teacher’s salary, and reduce Isle of Wight’s furniture purchase by roughly $25,000.

Another option, School Board member Denise Tynes said, would be to submit the budget as is and wait for supervisors to set a dollar amount as the county’s local contribution. Then the School Board could go back and make budget cuts to work within the allocated local funding.

The March 22 meeting will begin at 4 p.m. at Westside Elementary School.