Friday, February 6, 2009

LETTER: RCPS asked to rescue a challenged school

February 5, 2009

Dear RCPS Team Member:
America is facing tremendous economic challenges. RCPS and all other school districts in the Commonwealth are facing staggering state and local budget cuts. In addressing the massive revenue shortfall that we face, we are operating under the premise that we protect our children first, our employees second, and our facilities last. We cannot and will not make any budgetary promises to any employee or to any program.
We will continue to hope that decision makers will recognize the destructiveness of under-funding education and rectify the situation sooner rather than later. Nevertheless, as this Board and this Administration have attempted to do on all matters affecting RCPS, this communication is being sent to you in an effort to educate you as to the budget facts, what we have done about it, and what we are contemplating doing about it.
BUDGET FACTS:
The total RCPS general fund budget for this school year (2008–2009) is approximately $144 million. The projected total general fund budget for the upcoming year (2009–2010) is approximately $134 million. This amounts to a $10 million decrease from this past year.
Please note, however, that the projected revenue decrease from the state relies on the governor’s proposed budget, which is built on a state revenue shortfall of approximately $3 billion. It is our understanding that the state revenue shortfall is closer to $4 billion. Therefore, it is the assessment of our financial experts that the combined decreases in revenue from the state and the City of Roanoke will result in total general fund revenue for 2009-2010 of $132 million, or closer to a $12 million decrease from this current school year. When this figure ($132 million) is coupled with our contractually required cost increases, the shortfall totals at least $15 million.
To put it into perspective, the total general fund revenue for the 2006-2007 school year was approximately $133 million. Therefore, with all of the cost increases between 2006 and the present day due to inflation, wage increases, price increases, insurance increases, and other uncontrollable costs, RCPS is being asked to rescue a challenged school division in 2009–2010 using less income than was available to us three years ago.
As you know, RCPS is unable to generate revenue and is instead wholly dependent on federal, state, and local governments for its revenue. We are well aware of the current economic stimulus plan that is winding its way through the U.S. Congress. We cannot count on this money. Even if this money were to be appropriated, we believe it will be earmarked in such a way as to restrict its use to fairly limited purposes.
The Board and Administration have lobbied the state government; however, given the condition of Virginia’s economy, there is little they can do at this time. We do not reasonably expect any financial assistance from the state government. However, either individually or as a representative body, please feel free to make your feelings known to your state representative about the proposed budget cuts.
With respect to local funds, we must recognize that the City of Roanoke is in much the same financial condition that we are. In particular, it is clear that the City is scheduled to receive less revenue from the state. It is further clear that the revenue being generated by the City is below what has been budgeted. We have kept City Council apprised of our financial condition.
BUDGET STEPS TAKEN TO DATE:
To date, the steps we have taken to address the budget crisis include the following:
  1. Effective in September of 2009, the Board has voted to re-purpose Oakland Intermediate School and Preston Park Elementary School into a single K-5 school. At the same time, the Board has voted to relocate Noel C. Taylor Learning Academy from its current leased location to the former Oakland Intermediate School;
  2. The Board has made the painful decision that it cannot promise that EROP will continue in its present form after the 2008-09 school year. The efforts of our veteran employees are deeply appreciated, and it is with particular regret that the Board had to make this decision in a short timeframe;
  3. The Administration has curtailed and/or eliminated field trips, consultants, travel, conferences, and food expenditures;
  4. The Board has authorized the Administration to explore the privatization of the transportation department; and
  5. The Administration has curtailed ongoing maintenance and capital projects.

CONTEMPLATED BUDGET CUTS:

Additional budget cuts that are being contemplated include the following:

  1. Downsizing the Central Office;
  2. A Division-wide wage freeze and step freeze, meaning that RCPS employees will not see an increase in their current salary and will not advance to the next step on the pay scale;
  3. Elimination of the preschool program for three-year olds;
  4. A probable increase in pupil-teacher ratios to levels that will not exceed SOQs;
  5. Elimination of the RCPS swimming program;
  6. Scaling back summer school;
  7. Elimination of middle school planning periods; and
  8. Implementation of identified cuts received from all school principals.

If all of the above contemplated cuts are enacted, this amounts to a total budgetary savings of approximately $6 million, which leaves approximately $9 million in additional cuts to be made in order to arrive at a balanced budget. The Administration and the Board are faced with the only remaining tools for balancing the budget—staff lay-offs or deeper facility-related efficiencies than were initially expected.

POTENTIAL FACILITY-RELATED EFFICIENCIES:

While we have been working deliberately for over a year on facilities planning, including an analysis of attendance zones as well as the most efficient use of facilities, we had intended that any contemplated changes would be implemented gradually. We are also looking at transportation efficiencies including limiting the number of out-of-zone school transfers. The budget situation has severely complicated our ongoing analysis.

We will share with you and the community alternatives for school closings and/or re-purposings (in addition to the previously mentioned Noel C. Taylor Learning Academy, Oakland Intermediate School, and Preston Park Elementary School) that may affect Woodrow Wilson Middle School, William Ruffner Middle School, James Madison Middle School, Fishburn Park Elementary School, and/or Raleigh Court Elementary School. A public hearing is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, February 18, 2009 at Addison Middle School. These closings and/or re-purposings, if enacted, will save the district more than $3 million.

POTENTIAL STAFF LAYOFFS:
Even if all of the cuts and efficiencies identified above are enacted, this totals approximately $9 million, leaving us $6 million short of achieving a balanced budget. At that point, the remaining tool available to balance our budget is staff layoffs. Averaging the present cost of an RCPS teacher at roughly $60,000, this would amount to an additional 100 positions facing the prospect of being laid off in accordance with the RCPS Reduction in Force (RIF) policy in order to achieve a budget within our anticipated revenue. EROP and employee resignations will reduce the amount of reduction in force required.
NEXT STEPS:
We are required by law to submit the RCPS budget to the City of Roanoke by March 15, 2009. We have asked City Council to explore the legality of extending this deadline so that we have additional time for the School Board, the Administration, and this community to grapple with the issues at hand and to explore together the best way to address this situation that preserves, to the extent possible, education as the priority of this community. Absent the legal ability to extend the March 15 deadline, we must make budgetary and facility decisions in a short timeframe and will do our best to communicate with you and this community as we take our next steps. Regardless of the timeframe, we welcome your input as well as input from the community at any time.
Thank you for everything that you do.

Very truly yours,
School Board Members & Superintendent, Dr. Rita Bishop

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Education, Roanoke City Public Schools

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