Cotton told to adjust budget


By BEN R. WILLIAMS – Bulletin Staff Writer

Henry County Schools Superintendent Jared Cotton has been tasked with finding an additional $30,000 in an already tight school budget to partially restore coaches’ stipends.

During a Wednesday meeting of the Henry County School Board, Cotton presented an amended budget. The board signed off on all but one of Cotton’s recommended changes: the removal of a restoration of stipends for academic and athletic coaches, which would have trimmed $60,740 from the plan.

Ridgeway District board member Francis Zehr opposed removing the stipends for coaches. Zehr said he has pushed to restore the stipends for three years.

The coaches in question, he said, are not just athletic coaches, but also academic coaches, band directors and ROTC.

In 2009, Zehr said, the coaches received a 10 percent raise, the first they had received in at least 12 years. However, he said, 2010 was a “devastating” budget year, and the coaches received a 15 percent pay cut.

“They’re making less money now than they were 16 years ago,” Zehr said. “We’re having trouble getting coaches. I’m willing to compromise; $30,000 would restore half the cut and improve morale, and there’s several ways I think we could achieve this.”

The board unanimously moved to approve Cotton’s amended budget with the amendment that Cotton find a way to add $30,000 for coaching stipends by trimming other budget items at his discretion.

Cotton said that he and school staff would work through the weekend to find the additional $30,000 so that the Henry County Board of Supervisors can be presented with a finalized budget before its meeting Tuesday.

“It’s difficult in this budget,” he said, “because we don’t have extra that we’re pulling from. We have unknowns that we’re still facing. … We had a decrease in enrollment this year, so certainly we hope our enrollment doesn’t decrease any more, because that would mean additional cuts.”

“There are a lot of question marks that we have to work through,” Cotton added, “and we have a very lean budget already. … It will be challenging, but we’ll certainly work to find that money for the board.”

The total proposed county budget is $117,238,114, of which $73,119,097 is allocated to the county schools.

The school board originally had requested from the board of supervisors $476,847 over level funding for fiscal 2014-2015. However, county staff recommended a local increase of just $75,000, leaving $401,847 to be trimmed from the original school budget.

To balance the budget, Cotton recommended several adjustments to the original budget. These included removing the restoration of half a budget/finance position ($28,016); removing contract adjustments for three staff members ($37,407); removing restoration of a general maintenance position ($52,116); removing restoration of stipends for academic and athletic coaches ($60,740); removing summer student interns for facilities/maintenance ($3,230); reducing purchase services by 10 percent ($96,400); and reducing capital outlay by 10 percent ($90,366).

Additionally, Cotton said, $33,572 is anticipated to be saved through attrition. With these cuts and factors combined, he said, the budget would be balanced. However, that did not include the coaches’ stipends.

Cotton said three items from the original proposed school budget need to remain in the amended budget: $187,930 for budget shortfalls relating to the Virginia Retirement System and health care costs; $79,712 for three health office assistants to serve in the elementary schools; and $27,740 to restore half of a budget finance position.

“I felt strongly about adding three health office assistants to help with dispensing medication and addressing health care needs at all the schools,” Cotton said. “What that does is it puts a health care person at every elementary school. The way it is now, schools share people, so that means somebody’s not there every day.”