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From what I have been told according to financial audits you end the year with a large surplus. Will you use that to make up the gap or is it already spent.
Have you identified the savings the VCU study recommendations would save the County yet? If not, why not?

Why do you only talk about the amount of salary increases but not how much more the County will pay each teacher when you include retirement, health insurance and the raise a teacher get for just being there one more year. I run a business with 10 employees and when we discuss cost of living raises I make sure everyone knows how much more I'm paying for health insurance and their retirement match. I never see any mention of the total package and how much that will increase. I'm guessing it would be higher than the 4% you talk about.

It would be easier for the public to provide input on the budget if it was written so that we can understand it.Only a person on the "inside" is going to know what the true needs are and what amounts to wasteful spending in the school system.Is it a student based budget or a staff based one?What percentage of it is spent directly on instruction for all students (classroom teachers,materials and programs for students)?Is enrollment growing so much that the school system has to increase the budget significantly every year?The only noticeable changes I have witnessed as my 3 children have moved through the schools are mostly,in my mind, either negative or do not benefit all students.They go on very few field trips,have less hands on materials in science,don't use the class textbooks,and spend more time on computers in elementary school than on reading and writing.More money went into the gifted program and Spanish classes in our school than was spent on materials for below grade level readers.I have to wonder if the school board knows more than just what is on the lists in the budget.Do they really know the results of their spending from parents and students?I think we need to get our feet back on the ground and slow down on spending until there is a way to understand the real needs of our school system versus the wants.

Tracy - The Board made some big changes in our budget materials this year to address several of your comments. I hope you will take a look at our budget website. The OVERVIEW at this link is a good place to start because that includes the Frequently Asked Questions and trend information on a variety of topics.

As to what the School Board really knows... I can only speak for myself, but I depend in part on feedback from people like you, so thanks for sharing your perspective.

The work session format the School Board implemented in late 2006 also gives us a monthly opportunity to dig deep into a variety of issues at our meetings. These work sessions often have students, teachers, and parents at the table providing us candid feedback. I have found them to be an immensely helpful tool in broadening our understanding of the work of the division.

Brian Wheeler

Dante - The annual fund balance is, in effect, our rainy day fund or contingency fund. You are correct that the fund balance is expected to be used to cover the shortfalls in the current fiscal year, along with operational holdbacks at each school. It is not clear whether that will will cover it all at this point.

The VCU study was provided to the School Board in December. Within 10 business days of our work session, Superintendent Pam Moran delivered her recommendations to the Board as to what the next steps would be and which budgets would be impacted.

Cost factors have not yet been calculated for each of the recommendations. However, this week the School Board took its first concrete step in response to the study by directing Dr. Moran to cut $400,000 from central office positions. This is on top of $200,000 cut last year.

When we talk about raises, we talk about it the way every employee and employer I know talks about it... i.e. what is happening to the paychecks or base salary. As managers, the School Board and Superintendent of course look at the total benefits package. This is detailed for the public on page A-22 in our budget. There you can see teacher retirement (VRS) contributions are expected to decline slightly in this budget.

In October 2007, the joint boards received the annual compensation report which drives the budget projections. That report indicates that we should anticipate a 11% increase in medical plan costs and a 6% increase in dental plan costs.

Brian Wheeler

The following comment by Dr. Moran concerns me and is an example of the thinking that is driving our school system in the wrong direction:

"We want to make the system less bureaucratic, more efficient and more focused in its service to schools,” she said.

How about making it, and the budget, more focused on students? In the process of creating a "world class education system" we are trying to make our schools look good to the public and to the state. This doesn't mean we are meeting the needs of the children, all children.

I don't desire for my children to have a world class education. I want them to have their educational, emotional, and physical needs met by educators who put their students first.

If this is what they want, then the budget needs to reflect it. Currently, I don't believe it does. The "needs" should be child focused, not staff based. Let's cut the fat (the "wants" that aren't truly "needs") and get back to the basics. The bells and whistles aren't working.

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