2018-01-24 / Front Page

School officials talk budget at Elizabeth Davis town hall

By Rich Griset

At a Wednesday night town hall at Elizabeth Davis Middle, school officials presented their $647.7 million budget proposal for fiscal year 2019, explaining, among other things, how it will fund school start time changes.

At the meeting, Bermuda District School Board member Carrie Coyner said many of the initiatives in next year’s budget came after receiving feedback from the community. Coyner highlighted plans to increase compensation for employees and fund initiatives that tackle equity and growth issues.

“We also heard loud and clear from our community about the cleanliness of our buildings,” she said, referencing the $7.7 million included in the new budget for custodial services.

Starting in 2014, the school system began outsourcing some of its custodial work to save money. While the outsourcing did lead to cost savings, the custodial vendors didn’t deliver the level of cleanliness the school system had hoped for. The $7.7 million plan will insource day custodians and outsource more intensive night cleanings of school buildings.

Coyner reassured attendees that the plan to change school start times has been approved and is on time to begin next fall.

She also discussed the changing demographics of the county, noting that the school system was heading toward being majority-minority, and that nearly a third of the school system’s roughly 60,000 students receive free or reduced-price lunch. Free and reduced-price lunches are given to students based on their household income and size. For school systems, it’s a way to measure poverty.

“We are a very diverse county,” she said. “It’s changing fast.”

Superintendent James Lane reviewed past years’ initiatives to put the proposed budget in perspective, saying that the school system had seen significant budget increases over the past four years.

Fiscal year 2016 saw $7.7 million in salary increases and incentives for hard-to-staff positions and $1.3 million for the Chromebook initiative; in fiscal year 2017, an additional $18 million went toward salary and benefits for CCPS employees. Fiscal year 2018 saw roughly $20 million go toward salary increases, employee benefits, health insurance and toward the underfunded supplemental retirement plan.

During the question-and-answer session, citizen Karyn Schappert asked how the school system was funding the school start times change. When the School Board approved its plan to change school start times, the plan included a one-time cost of $4.1 million and an additional $1.9 million in annual expenses. In the new proposed budget, school officials say they can pay for the plan primarily through a variety of cost-saving measures.

In response to Schappert’s question, Lane explained that they were able to cover much of the costs by making substitute bus driver positions full-time, and reallocate funding for 50 unfilled substitute bus driver positions toward 30 new full-time positions. He also said that the school system still needed $1.5 million in funding to purchase more buses.

Sitting next to Schappert, Kim Christman asked if the calculations for school start times and new bus routes were done based on the current distribution of students around the school system, or if they had been done based on redistricting plans. Lane replied that it had been based on the current system.

“The new redistricting has the potential to save us money because it collapses some of the routes into shorter times,” he said. “The redistricting will benefit the model that we built.”

Correction: In an earlier version of this story, we misidentified Kim Christman. We apologize for the error. 

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