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Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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Stimulus funds benefit county schools

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

A $75 million budget approved Monday by the Henry County School Board makes use of federal stimulus funding while trimming more than 30 instruction positions in fiscal 2010 due to declining enrollment.

School officials anticipate receiving a little more than $2.9 million for a two-year period through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus, with preliminary plans to spend about $1 million in fiscal year 2010.

Schools Superintendent Sharon Dodson said the stimulus funds could best be used to pay for one-time expenses rather than recurring ones because the school division expects to receive the federal funds for only the next two years.

In the proposed budget, school officials distributed stimulus funds to various expense categories, including $750,000 in the instruction category, $600,000 each in transportation and technology, $472,495 in the facilities category, $300,000 in administration/attendance and health and $200,000 in the operations and maintenance category, budget documents show.

The funds were not allocated to specific expenses because "it is not clear how to spend it," said Dawn Lawson, assistant superintendent of finance. In other words, the schools do not yet know on what exactly they will be authorized to spend the stimulus funds.

More information about what the funds can be used for is expected within the next few weeks, and the funds will be allocated as needed, perhaps to pay for replacement buses or other one-time expenses, according to Lawson and school officials.

Funds could be transferred among categories if needed, pending approval from the Henry County Board of Supervisors, Dodson said.

Although funding for 2010 looked bleak before the stimulus funds were added to the budget proposal, after their addition there are "no employee group layoffs or reductions related to monetary problems" in the budget, Dodson said.

However, more than 30 positions will be cut from the instruction category for a savings of more than $2.1 million in 2010, according to budget documents.

Those positions will be cut through attrition or because of licensing issues, Dodson said. A licensing issue could involve a teacher whose license does not meet current standards.

The staff reduction "is due primarily to (a) decline in enrollment," budget documents state.

According to a membership comparison report for the end of January - the most recent data available - enrollment in county schools was down to 7,213 from 7,353 for the same time last year.

Because recent enrollment figures in high schools are not yet available, there is a possibility of more personnel cuts, especially with respect to certain programs that may be lagging in student interest, according to DeWitt House, assistant superintendent.

"If a program doesn't get" a certain amount of students, it may not be viable, House said. Rather than doing away with the entire program, officials first would consider mixing and matching and looking at both high schools for opportunities to share personnel, he said.

"The picture will be a lot clearer" once school officials get enrollment reports, House said, adding he expects that information will be available by the April 2 school board meeting.

House did not identify which programs might be affected.

The school division anticipated a 9.64 percent loss in state revenues, or more than $4.9 million, in the next fiscal year, as well as a $1 million drop in federal and state grant programs, for a decrease of 10.53 percent, according to budget documents.

Other sources of revenue are estimated to drop by 4 percent, or $37,500. Those sources were not identified in the budget. The amount of funding budgeted from Henry County also is down $374,063, or 2.14 percent.

The school board must forward the budget proposal to county supervisors by April 1. It will be up to the supervisors whether to approve the budget.

Also on Monday, the board:

"¢ Awarded a $99,960 contract to AAR of North Carolina, low bidder, to replace the existing 24-year-old 12,050-square-foot roof on the Laurel Park Middle School gym.

"¢ Awarded a $38,000 contract to Cornerstone Construction LLC of Martinsville to replace 7,500 square feet of the more than 25-year-old roof on the Axton Records Building (former Cannery Building, school building and connector structure).


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