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The News Leader

More personnel cuts may be needed to make Waynesboro Public Schools' budget work

By Patrick Hite, Staunton News Leader,

2023-03-15
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WAYNESBORO — Superintendent Jeffrey Cassell did what he promised, delivering a balanced budget to the Waynesboro School Board Tuesday night. That doesn't mean it comes without questions yet to be answered.

The $48.68 million budget, which was unanimously approved, includes a 5% raise for staff, less than what the school division had hoped to give. It also comes without a state budget in place, meaning the school division isn't sure just how much state funding it will receive. The budgets proposed by the House, Senate and Governor are all different — in the case of the House and Senate, very different — and there's not a timeline for when that will be reconciled. Waynesboro used the Governor's budget, which falls in between the House and Senate versions, to calculate its budget.

At the Feb. 14 school board meeting, Waynesboro was facing a $1.99 million deficit. That shrunk to $1.7 million at a work session a month later as staff identified open positions that didn't need to be filled. At that time staff felt like the remaining deficit would also be made up through attrition.

On Tuesday March 14, Cassell said that the school division had identified at least 14 positions — six in the elementary school, six in secondary and two more division-wide positions — that could be eliminated through attrition. Not all are teaching positions. Even with that the budget was $1 million out of balance.

What Cassell proposed was cutting that $1 million from expenditures for personnel and approving a balanced budget.

"We'll simply have to do additional reductions of personnel," Cassell said. "There aren't any non-salary expenses that can be reduced."

The hope is that whatever budget is approved by the General Assembly will include at least an additional $1 million so those reductions aren't necessary. If it's more than $1 million, Cassell said there are several options, including increasing the 5% raise.

If it's less than $1 million than cuts will have to be made. Cassell said again Tuesday he hopes that comes through attrition, although he gave no guarantee that the school division won't have to lay off employees.

School board member Debra Freeman-Belle asked if the school division would be "putting people on the street without a job." Cassell said although there aren't enough vacant positions now to make up that $1 million, it is only March and that could change.

"We'll have some additional positions open up," Cassell said. "I can't say at this point that we wouldn't be to a spot that we do a reduction in force but I don't see that happening. I think this is manageable through attrition."

Board member Amber Lipscomb asked if all positions, including administrative, were on the table if cuts are made and Cassell said staff would look at all positions to see what makes the most sense.

Cassell said many elementary classes now have 15 or fewer students but as some positions aren't replaced that might jump to the low 20s in some classes.

"I'm confident in saying our class sizes won't be larger than they were pre-pandemic" Cassell said. "I think we'll still have reasonable class sizes."

The Waynesboro City Council is scheduled to vote on its budget, which includes the school budget, March 27.

Patrick Hite is a reporter at The News Leader. Story ideas and tips always welcome. Contact Patrick (he/him/his) at phite@newsleader.com and follow him on Twitter @Patrick_Hite. Subscribe to us at newsleader.com.

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