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School funding raised

Friday, April 25, 2014

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

The Martinsville City Public Schools will receive $150,000 more from the city in the new fiscal year that will start July 1.

Martinsville City Council made that decision in a 4-1 vote during a budget work session on Thursday. Councilman Mark Stroud dissented. He said after the meeting that he thinks the schools should get up to $300,000 extra.

Stroud’s wife, Darlene, is the schools’ human resources director. However, he said during the meeting that her salary is set by the superintendent, not the city council, so his vote would not be a conflict of interest.

The schools asked the city for $6,936,601 in local operating funds for the 2015 fiscal year, an increase of $576,070 over the current fiscal year.

However, the city’s fiscal 2015 budget proposal included level funding of $6,360,531 for the schools. The extra $150,000 brings the schools’ local funding to $6,510,531 and is a roughly 2.36 percent increase.

The schools’ adopted budget calls for adding 11 employees — specifically, eight teachers and three aides.

According to Superintendent Pam Heath, seven of the positions stemmed from state mandates. They include an elementary teacher needed due to a spike in students at that level as well as three teachers and three aides needed to handle special education caseloads, she has said.

Vice Mayor Gene Teague said he hopes the schools will spend the extra city dollars toward hiring those teachers. Mayor Kim Adkins indicated she agrees.

But legally, “the council can’t tell them how to spend” the money, Adkins said of the schools.

“All we can do,” Teague said, “is define the logic” for giving them more money.

Although she voted for the extra $150,000, Councilwoman Sharon Brooks Hodge said she was concerned about “sending a signal” to the schools that, when they want more money, all they have to do to get it is say it will go toward hiring teachers.

The schools also want to restore the JROTC program, which was dropped several years ago because of budget cuts. Heath has estimated the yearly cost at $150,000.

But the council indicated that its additional funding of the same amount should be put toward other things.

JROTC is “a great opportunity ... for some of our students,” such as those who cannot afford to go to college, to continue their education beyond high school through programs of the armed forces, Adkins said.

Hodge said, though, that she thinks the school system has not proven that it cannot reinstate JROTC with money it already has.

“It’s an important program,” Teague said, but spending when finances are tight “is about (setting) priorities.”

The council will allow the schools to use $160,000 out of any funds it has left over in the current fiscal year to replace some buses. Teague said that should be an impetus for the schools to manage their money wisely.

Neither Heath nor Martinsville School Board Chairman Robert Williams could be reached for comment Thursday night on the council’s vote.

Council members indicated that the extra money will be taken from the city’s fund balance, which includes reserve funds.

Also during Thursday’s budget meeting, Hodge recommended that the city’s parks and recreation department move to the housing office on Fourth Street if that building no longer is needed for the housing assistance program.

The city is proceeding with plans to transfer control of its housing program to the Danville Redevelopment & Housing Authority to save money. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ultimately must approve the transfer, according to Assistant City Manager Wayne Knox.

The parks and rec office is in the former Druid Hills School on Indian Trail, which also houses the schools’ administrative offices.

Officials have discussed moving the parks and rec office back to the municipal building, where it was until a few years ago.

People have complained about having to pay fees for parks and rec services at the treasurer’s office at the municipal building and then go to Indian Trail to pick up equipment, officials have said.

“We should not collect funds anywhere but” the municipal building, Finance Director Linda Conover told the council, based on what auditors have said, because “it is much more efficient and creates a better audit trail.”

Yet officials did not rule out moving parks and rec to Fourth Street.

City Manager Leon Towarnicki said the fiscal 2015 budget proposal includes operating expenses for the housing office building for the entire year.

Hodge said she made her suggestion because residents of the city’s West Side have voiced concern about losing the presence of city officials in their neighborhood.

If the housing office vacates the building and parks and rec does not move there, the building might can be used for the Martinsville Police Department’s Community Oriented Policing program, Stroud said.


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