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Wise School Board eyes closure of Appalachia Elementary

Stephen Igo • Apr 20, 2017 at 1:05 PM

WISE — With the only available options being bad, really bad or don’t even go there, the Wise County School Board will build a budget for next fiscal year predicated in part on closing Appalachia Elementary School.

A consensus was forged during Wednesday’s budget workshop session to schedule twin public hearings on May 22 — one on the budget, one on the AES closure — followed by regular business matters from a postponed May 9 regular session. The board also eyes an April 25 special called meeting primarily to address health insurance and firm up the future meeting schedule.

Wednesday’s workshop deliberations essentially boiled down to absorbing a $300,000 increase in health insurance costs for next fiscal year and preserving a 2 percent pay increase or cutting pay across the board along with passing along the health insurance rate increases in order to address a projected $2 million deficit.

Superintendent Greg Mullins and Finance Director Beth Shupe said closing AES would conservatively save $610,300 for next fiscal year — and likely $200,000 more than that, particularly in ensuing years — which coupled with $1.1 million in projected savings as a result of retirements and other staff attrition means the deficit could be pretty much addressed with the least pain across the division.

The AES closure route would also take a 2 percent pay cut on top of higher health insurance paycheck deductions off the table.

For Wise County, not including a 2 percent pay raise as established by the governor and legislators in Richmond would equate to a 2 percent cut next fiscal year, because the school system provided that 2 percent for the current fiscal year out of its own pocket only to have the state renege on its commitment because of its own budget problems.

Board member Martha Jett initially pushed for the 2 percent pay cut, rather than close AES, because she said the pain would be shared equally by all. A 2 percent pay cut would save the division around $700,000. However, Jett’s proposal did not go over well with many of her fellow board members, particularly John Graham.

Other cost savings were equally unacceptable options to the board including passing along the health insurance cost increase, eliminating $184,000 in school allocations, $60,000 in extended contracts, $132,000 in athletic/field trip transportation, $350,000 in coaching stipends, and $600,000 in at least 15 staff contract non-renewals.

In any event, the administration will now prepare a budget based in part on closing AES. The budget will also be based on the assumption of level funding from the Wise County Board of Supervisors, also dealing with budget difficulties of its own.

Last year, supervisors whacked $700,000 in locally provided funds to the school division. Mullins reported in an earlier session that Wise County Finance Administrator David Cox said the best the school system could hope for this year was level funding.