WCSB: cut $4.4 million or close schools?
By ASHLEY AMASON
In a recent budget workshop, Walton County School Board member Mark Davis requested from Chief Financial Officer Jim McCall “cost data and information on combining Freeport Middle School and Freeport High School. In effect Freeport Middle School as you know it would be closed and all of the students would go to Freeport High School,” said McCall. Davis also requested McCall calculate how much money could be saved by closing Mossy Head Elementary (which opened this year).
“We didn’t pick up a lot of students when we opened [Mossy Head Elementary], but a lot of students transferred there. The question was asked, ‘would you price out closing that school.’ You can’t say a suggestion was made to close a school or anything like that,” McCall emphasized, “and we didn’t include it in our presentation at all, but those were the questions I was asked.”
Responding to the notion of combining or closing schools, board member Darrell Barnhill offered, “I don’t believe we’re anywhere close to that point yet.”
Superintendent Anderson told the Herald in a phone interview Jan. 23, “The budget cuts are great enough to make dramatic changes in the way that we do work every day. If it means closing a school, that’s just one of the options that the board has to look at. Yes, that is an option, but is it a legitimate option that we consider in light of capacity? I wouldn’t say that the budget cuts are such that we have to combine or close schools,” continued Anderson. “I would say budget cuts are necessary and that we have to take some great initiative, because if you say ‘combine or close schools,’ that appears that’s the only option you’re looking at and it’s not. We’re looking at reductions in our employment force…85 percent of our general operating budget is salaries and benefits.”
Anderson ended by saying, “By the end of this school year, what we need to look for next school year is $4.4 million in reductions based on the cuts we’ve had thus far.”
At the board’s regular meeting Jan. 20, members approved the contract for the legal services of Attorney Ben Holley. Holley’s contract was set to be approved for three years. However, Barnhill motioned to amend approval to one year due to budget cuts, stressing he was in no way suggesting termination of Holley’s contract after such time.
Upon Barnhill’s suggestion, Holley asked the board to consider he has not requested a pay increase in several years in light of budget cuts, and his fees per year totaled only $28,000, to which Barnhill replied, “One day maybe you can make as much as our negotiator does.”
The board unanimously approved personnel recommendations, and Facilities Coordinator Mark Gardner took a moment to note the retirement of Danny Bell and his years of service.
The motion carried to temporarily suspend the school board development order application fees until the end of fiscal year 2008-2009 to evidence the board’s sympathy in a time of economic crisis.
Superintendent Anderson commended Walton County students for raising $11, 565.99 for Children in Crisis. Children in Crisis is an organization that believes ignorance and illiteracy lie at the heart of poverty, and work to provide education and health care for children in the world’s poorest countries.