School closures a last resort

Published 10:04 pm Monday, March 8, 2010

The immediate future of three Suffolk schools is hanging in the balance, but administrators won’t have answers until at least after this weekend.

The Suffolk School Board decided Monday night to reserve the closings of Florence Bowser, Robertson and Mount Zion elementary schools as an absolute last resort to compensate for its decreased budget.

“We should look at what kind of an impact what we’ve discussed will have on our decrease, and then if they need more cuts, we’ll look at if we have to close one, two or three then,” school board chairman Lorraine Skeeter said following the board’s line-by-line review of the proposed budget looking for cuts.

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When school administrators drafted their 2010 budget proposal earlier this month, it allowed for a drop in state funds of only $1.85 million.

The State Senate and House have since reduced the state reductions from Gov. Robert McDonnell’s budget proposal that were originally upwards of $9 million.

“The House has proposed reductions of $4 million and the Senate’s budget would give us $650,000,” explained Superintendent Milton Liverman, who said he expects the two entities to meet somewhere in the middle, resulting in a decrease in state funds he is confident will be less than $4 million.

Combined with a decrease from Suffolk, which could possibly range from $2.2 million and $4.4 million, the highest amount that could be decreased from the school’s budget would be $8.4 million. But Liverman is estimating the loss to be $6.2 million or lower.

“I’m confident that number will decrease after the weekend,” he said.

In light of the seemingly improved situation and the efforts by the school board to find other savings, closing the schools will be a last resort, they say.

First, they will compile a list of savings the board has discussed, including energy savings by turning off building lights and changing the temperatures in classrooms, lowering printing costs and program savings.

Those savings will be added to savings from the retirement incentive program, which could save up to $2.7 million, depending on how many employees take the offer.

Even if only a third of those eligible were to take the incentive, it would save the schools approximately $1 million and create jobs for others within the system whose jobs could be cut.

Skeeter said that if — and only if — any of the schools would need to be closed, they would start with the school that would result in the fewest teachers losing their jobs, Florence Bowser.

Liverman said he expects to have total savings, including a better idea of savings from the retirement incentive, in three weeks. But having the number from the House of Delegates this weekend will be the “biggie,” he said.