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School administrators set budget priorities

It took two days of School Board deliberations and five hours of public hearing input, but Superintendent Milton Liverman has a prioritized list of where potential budget cuts may lie.

“Your directions are clear,” Liverman told board members near the end of a Monday meeting. “You want to reach your goal by as little classroom impact as possible and find cuts in administration, operating costs, transportation and alternative education — that which does not directly impact the classroom.”

Depending on education cuts in the state budget, which will likely be decided this weekend, school administrators believe the cuts, which were once believed to upwards of $9 million, may now be less than $4 million.

“The House has proposed reductions of $4 million and the Senate’s budget would give us $650,000,” said Liverman, who said he expects the two entities to meet somewhere in the middle.

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

On Thursday and Monday, the School Board reviewed all 16 major categories in the budget to decide if each should remain as is or could be reduced, restructured or eliminated.

Department heads, assistant superintendents and program administrators came before the board to explain the duties of each person in their department or program.

The board discussed and evaluated all subject items and in some cases asked the speaker to evaluate how an item could be consolidated, reduced or even eliminated.

Some of the line items where board members indicated they would like to see savings included making the Sentara Obici LPN Program self sustaining, which is allocated $148,000 of the school budget and currently has only 12 students. The program is, however, one of the oldest continuous partnerships sustained by the system and is an adult education program that produces 12 to 17 graduates a year.

Consolidating or cutting activity bus runs also was discussed. The finance department, too, can expect cuts in travel and a reduction in non-essential materials.

Also being explored are savings that can be obtained by other non-personnel decisions, such as turning off lights at schools and in parking lots, adjusting thermostats by two degrees, discussing with the city why the school’s fuel and vehicle parts are marked up and reducing traveling expenses.

At the bottom of the cut list are school closings, the Early Start program and other programs — such as gifted and art programs — that directly impact students in the classroom.

“Closer to the top is trimming positions and expenditures from the central office,” said Bethanne Bradshaw, public information officer of Suffolk public schools, in an email. “Closest to the top of the cut list are 10 percent cut to every non-personnel budget category, which would mean less staff development (such as training and travel), purchased services, technology purchases, materials and supplies, printing, transportation, etc.”

Administrators already have put in motion a one-time cash retirement incentive for individuals who are eligible to retire. Depending on how many of the 126 persons who qualify opt to take the system up on its offer, it could save as much as $2.7 million. Even if only one-third of eligible persons take the incentive, it would save the system $1 million.

Bradshaw added that department heads have also brought ways to dramatically cut their budgets to the table.

“It will depend on the state amount just how deep each department’s budget will need to be cut,” she said. “Some suggestions that impacted students might no longer be needed. The staff has been working hard on restructuring the way they will provide services next year, as a means of reducing costs.”

Liverman is not expected to have any specific dollar amounts or “even generalized ball-park figures” pertaining to savings at Thursday’s School Board meeting, but his recommendations will be discussed by the board at its March 25 meeting.