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Schools outline spending priorities

The stage has been set.

Operational costs, textbooks, staff development, materials and supplies, part-time funds and field trips will see the sharp edge of the blade as Suffolk Public Schools administrators cut expenses to balance next year’s school budget. Central office support positions also could be eliminated.

In a letter dated March 18, Superintendent Milton Liverman laid out to school employees in definitive terms the priorities and intentions of school administrators as they prepare for a reduction in state funds of about $2 million in the 2010-11 fiscal year.

In the letter, Liverman confirmed that the most controversial solutions for narrowing the budget gap had been removed from consideration.

Those potential solutions included closing Florence Bowser, Mount Zion and Robertson Elementary schools; eliminating or reducing the Early Start program; elimination of art, music and physical education programs; salary reductions and employee layoffs.

While administrators said they are encouraged by the state budget situation, the impact of reduced tax collections by the city of Suffolk is not yet known. City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn has asked school administrators and directors of other city programs to prepare budget requests reflecting 5-percent and 10-percent cuts. In the case of the public schools, those reductions respectively, would equal $2.2 million and $4.4 million.

In preparation for the impending reductions, the School Board has held two public input meetings to allow the community — employees, parents, students and organizations — to voice their priorities and garner budget-cutting ideas. Administrators also directed all offices to submit cost-cutting ideas, and the School Board has spent two separate meetings being briefed and analyzing every page of the budget.

Liverman’s letter was a follow-up to one he sent earlier in the process warning school employees about the significant effects they could have expected if the worst predictions about the state budget had come to fruition.

At one time, based on reports coming out of Virginia’s General Assembly session, Liverman had been concerned that Suffolk would lose as much as $14 million in state educational funds.

Such a steep decrease would have required radical changes in the school system, leaving administrators, faculty, employees and parents worried about the future of jobs and programs, most of which seem to have been spared with the news that the legislature’s proposed budget would reduce Suffolk’s funding by only $2 million.

Liverman’s Thursday letter called on Suffolk Public Schools employees to help the system meet its budget goals through energy conservation, reducing the number of copies made and cutting back on printer supplies. He also asked employees to continue to submit ideas for saving money.

“Working together, we will continue to provide the best educational experiences for our students,” Liverman stated in the letter.