It had to happen.

That’s what many of the members of the Cumberland County Board of Education told pleading spectators last week as they chipped away at their 2008-’09 school budget. Due to a lack of funding, the board felt they had no choice but to make cuts to cover as much of their $7.8 million deficit as they could.

"I'm sorry it came to this," said Rick Smith, 4th District representative.

"It's not something we want to do…It has to be done, and it's sad that it came to this," said 1st District representative Brian Houston.

On Thursday, the board studied seven pages of possible cuts, including $945,000 from the instruction program. Those cuts dealt with five new teaching positions, software license renewals, instructional supplies, textbooks, fee waivers and computers.

The transportation budget also had a high number of cuts attached—nearly $472,000. The plan called for two bus drivers to be cut, four buses, maintenance and repair vehicles, contracted services, lubricants, tire, lubes and other vehicle parts. Because the plan proposed cutting $100,000 in fuel, field trips did not seem like a possibility.

In regular instruction support, the plan called for nearly $234,000 in cuts to career ladder, extended contract, library books, librarians/media specialists, consultants, staff development, supplies and materials.

The maintenance of plant budget had about $261,000 of cutbacks in new personnel, mowers, maintenance and repair services, contracted services, equipment and machinery parts, lawn care supplies, drainage and septic materials, chemicals and equipment. Plus, the proposal included $96,456 in cuts to the following items for the operation of plant: environmental cleaning, janitorial services, pest control, custodial supplies, equipment and uniforms.

The special education section had $84,545 of reductions to homebound and part-time personnel, instructional supplies and materials, textbooks and equipment.

Other proposed cuts pertained to equipment and materials for the vocational department; extracurricular support in the student support category; cell phone service and postage in the director's budget; substitute nurses in health services; career ladder and extended contracts for principals; insurance for the alternative school program; engineering services and site development in capital outlay; and the financial director position in the Central Office budget.

In order to save positions, the BOE was also presented the options of freezing the support staff's pay at last year's rate, reducing their number of hours to seven and removing extra work days. Plus, they could reduce the work days for administrators, principals and teachers; remove all of the elementary assistant principals and two high school assistant principals; cut between five and eight nurses; reduce extra summer custodial work to 40 days per school; and cut the Army JROTC program.

According to VanWinkle, the total amount of these reductions equaled $4.2 million. If all transportation was cut out entirely, $2.7 million could be added to the amount to bring the grand total to $6.9 million.

Before making any cuts to personnel, 2nd District representative Robert Safdie suggested cutting the entire transportation budget and the $344,000 for extracurricular activities. Several parents and students begged the board to not do that because it would ruin scholarship and college opportunities.

No decision was made that night.

At Friday night’s work session, VanWinkle proposed different cuts to the instruction, regular instruction support and maintenance of plant budgets. For example, she suggested the BOE only cut three positions, fee waivers, $17,000 for software license renewals and $88,000 for computers from the instruction program, bringing the reductions to $295,040.

In regular instruction support, she recommended reducing the budget by $141,961.63 by only cutting career ladder, extended contracts, consultants, staff development and $1,000 for supplies and materials instead of $30,000.

For maintenance of plant, she proposed going with the reductions mentioned earlier, except those to contracted services and supplies and materials. She also wanted the board to only cut $75,000 from maintenance and repair services instead of $100,000 and $5,000 from equipment and machinery parts rather than $10,000.

In addition, she asked the board to consider giving the support staff a one-percent bonus if they decide to freeze the pay rate. She also requested they do not reduce the staff's hours and keep the JROTC program, assistant principals, nurses, custodians, receptionists and other office personnel.

Concerned about putting a "huge burden" on employees, VanWinkle also suggested the BOE remove another $800,000 from its fund balance, approve a new budget and ask the county budget committee for enough money to operate schools.

“I truly believe this county has the ability to pay…and can fund education,” she said as applause filled auditorium. "I think we ought to educate the students as we did last year, build on this program and ask the county commission to fund it…The whole process last night was to show that we don’t have any fluff in our budget because to even come up with $4 million we were cutting people’s salaries back."

During a special-called meeting, which began at 8:55 p.m. and lasted until midnight, the BOE voted on each individual cut and suggestion made by VanWinkle and approved the following:

•The newly-proposed cuts to instruction, regular instruction support and maintenance of plant.

•The unchanged cuts to the alternative, vocational, health services, special education support, other student (extracurricular) support, offices of the director and principals and Central Office and capital outlay budgets.

•The recommended reductions to the operation of plant budget, except $10,000 in custodial supplies.

•All of the proposed transportation cuts (instead of the entire budget), except for the $100,000 for fuel. Two other motions failed in this category—one to cut the fuel along with the rest of the items and another to make the cuts but leave enough money to purchase one bus.

•Freezing the support staff’s pay and provide them with a one-percent bonus if the money (about $40,000) is available.

•A motion made by 6th District representative Victor Randolph to cut $6,700 from the board’s own budget, including $700 in life insurance, $5,000 in travel expenses and $1,000 in other charges.

Randolph, Schlafer, Houston, Davis and 2nd District representative Robert Safdie favored most of the motions. Mary Smith, 7th District representative, voted against the majority of them, while Parris opposed them all. Rick Smith, 4th District representative, was not present to vote.

Items not cut or reduced by the BOE included extracurricular activities, JROTC, assistant principals, custodians, nurses, receptionists, security coordinator, the support staff's hours and extra work days for administrators and principals.

A motion to make the proposed cuts to the special education program failed because it did not have at least five votes in favor of it. Only Schlafer, Safdie, Houston and Davis gave yes votes. Randolph, Mary Smith and Parris voted no.

This brought the grand total of the reductions to $1.7 million, leaving a deficit of $6 million. With the board’s approval to use a total of $2.8 from its fund balance, the deficit now stands at $3.2 million. According to VanWinkle, it will now take a 25.57 increase in property taxes to continue giving students the same education as last year.

A motion to approve a new 2008-’09 budget reflecting these reductions passed with Houston, Schlafer, Safdie, Davis and Randolph voting yes. Mary Smith voted against it, and Parris passed her vote.

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