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School funds added

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

The Martinsville City Public Schools is getting a second boost of city funds.

In a unanimous vote, Martinsville City Council on Tuesday gave the schools an extra $225,000 to hire new employees that school officials deem critical.

That money, along with an additional $150,000 that the council approved on April 24, means the schools will receive a total of $375,000 beyond the level funding of $6,360,531 recommended in the city’s proposed budget for fiscal 2015, which will start July 1.

The two extra allocations will bring the schools’ total city funding for the new fiscal year to $6,735,531.

However, that amount is $201,070, or roughly 3 percent, less than the $6,936,601 in city funds that the schools sought for the coming year.

The schools’ adopted budget calls for adding eight teachers and three aides. Most stem from state mandates.

In granting the extra $225,000 on Tuesday, some council members said they have talked with school officials since the April 24 meeting and now realize the schools need more local money.

The schools “need to do what the community needs for them to do” to educate students properly, said Councilwoman Sharon Brooks Hodge.

The extra local funding will not be enough for the school system to cover its wish list beyond personnel. For instance, it will not be enough to reinstate the JROTC program that was dropped several years ago amid budget cuts. Superintendent Pam Heath has estimated the cost of that program at $150,000.

As with the earlier allocation of $150,000 in extra funds, the council will dip into the city’s fund balance, which includes reserve funds, to cover the extra $225,000.

The city now will be using $2,820,774 in reserve funds to balance the fiscal 2015 budget, according to Finance Director Linda Conover.

Vice Mayor Gene Teague said the city can afford to give the schools more local funding this year because its finances will be about $3 million better than officials anticipated due to conservative budgeting practices.

But “our level of spending is not sustainable” in the future, Teague said.

Speaking during the hearing, Ural Harris, who has announced his candidacy for a council seat in the Nov. 4 election, agreed.

If reserve funds continue to be used to balance the budget, eventually the city will dip into its well and pull out a half-empty bucket, City Manager Leon Towarnicki said, using an analogy.

During a public hearing on the proposed city budget, both Heath and school board member Rives Coleman thanked the council for the extra money.

The council gave its preliminary approval to the approximately $89 million city spending plan in a unanimous vote after the hearing.

For the first time since he was elected to council in 2008, Councilman Danny Turner — who often has criticized the city’s spending practices — voted in favor of a budget.

After the meeting, Turner said he believes city officials “did a pretty good job” overall in preparing budgets for the past two years.

Yet he was not entirely happy with the fiscal 2015 budget.

Turner tried unsuccessfully Tuesday to get the council to remove from the budget, and reconsider separately, funds for the Piedmont Virginia Dental Health Foundation clinic uptown and The Launch Place, which provides business consulting and entrepreneurship development services to help strengthen the region’s economy, according to its website.

Other council members recalled those matters previously being considered. At recent budget work sessions, controversy arose over the foundation and The Launch Place being clients of Mayor Kim Adkins’ consulting firm.

Adkins abstained from voting on previous failed motions to eliminate funds for those entities.

“It sets a really bad precedent, rehashing something already done,” Teague said.


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