Supervisors’ chair responds to criticism by school officials

By Susan Gibbs

Clarence “Buggs” Peyton, chairman of the Greene County Board of Supervisors, spent some time during the panel’s regularly scheduled meeting May 22 defending himself against allegations made in a letter delivered via Greene County public school children to their parents.

Greene County Board of Supervisors Chairman Clarence "Buggs" Peyton

The letter, dated May 3 and signed by Greene County School Board Chairman Troy Harlow and Greene County School Superintendent David Jeck, followed a May 2 Greene County Board of Supervisors workshop that included making a final decision on the school board’s request for an additional $2.1 million in local funding.

 

At that time three of the county’s five supervisors – David Cox, Eddie Deane, and Vice-chairman Davis Lamb — said they favored allocating $1.1 million in new local funding to the schools. Peyton favored allocating about a half million in new funding, while Supervisor Jim Frydl, who serves as supervisors’ liaison to the school board, favored allocating the full $2.1 million requested.

After hearing that they would not be getting what they wanted, School officials swung into action. Among other things, they sent out the following letter – after Peyton had taken care to explain at a public meeting April 24, with Harlow in attendance, that the $16 million in the county’s reserve fund was by no means unspoken for.

The Harlow/Jeck letter reads:

“Dear Friends, Colleagues, and Parents,

“We are deeply saddened to inform you of the recent direction of the Greene County Board of Supervisors. Last night the Greene County Board of Supervisors (BOS) tentatively agreed to allocate an additional $1.1 million for Greene County Public [sic] for the 2012-2013 school year. The School System had requested and needed an additional $2,123,000 in funding in order to offset the additional $1.3 million in VRS costs as well as lost revenues associated with the Local Composite Index Increase for Greene County. Several other critically important cost increases (i.e. additional staffing based on enrollment, maintenance and fuel costs, losses in federal school improvement and Jobs Bill funding, a 10% increase in medical bill premiums, etc.) were also included as part of our budget request. Clearly, Greene County Public Schools is facing a funding crisis not of its own making. On May 2 the Greene County Board of Supervisors chose not to help the school system through an unprecedented fiscal crisis but rather to fund ~$1 million less than requested.

“Greene County currently has a reserve fund containing ~$16 million. This amount represents a 30% reserve which is twice the reserve amount recommended by the county auditor. Over $1.4 million of that amount was directly contributed by the school system through disciplined money management and strategic financial decisions. These strategies allowed the school system to contribute those funds while still cutting spending by an additional $1M. These cuts were realized primarily through the elimination of 38 positions, and a 20% decrease in material and supplies funding. At the same time, GCPS added approximately 200 new students.

Greene County School Superintendent David Jeck

“The current Board of Supervisors includes three new members, each of whom pledged their commitment to public education in Greene County. During the May 2nd BOS workshop, which took place after the public hearing and just four days prior to the May 8 BOS budget approval meeting, Chairman Bugs [sic] Peyton suggested that the BOS authorize $582,000 of the $2,123,000 school system request – less than one-quarter of the request. Chairman Peyton stated that it would be ‘irresponsible’ to allocate any of the $16 million that currently rests in the county reserve funds towards the schools as a result of reduction in state and federal funding. Chairman Peyton neglected to mention the school system’s contribution to that same reserve. Mr. Jim Frydl, BOS member, pointed out that if the county allocated $1.5 million from reserve funding to the schools, there would still be close to $16 million in reserve next year because of agency contributions to the reserve at the end of the current fiscal year. This very accurate observation was not seriously considered. During the May 2nd workshop Chairman Peyton confidently offered his support for another 5% increase for ALL county employees (excluding school personnel) and supported the hiring of several additional staff members within other county agencies. Despite Jim Frydl’s proposal of $2 million for schools, the BOS members ultimately agreed to provide $1.1 million in additional funding for schools based on the recommendation of BOS member Eddie Deane. The School Board was invited to attend this ‘workshop’ but was not allowed to participate.

“It is important to remember that the Greene County Board of Supervisors advertised $2.3 million in additional funding for schools prior to the April 24 Budget Hearing. At NO TIME prior to last night’s workshop did the BOS or Chairman Peyton indicate that the schools would not be fully funded during this severe budget crisis.  All joint workshops since January 2012 indicated that our financial crisis was unfortunate, but we were going to work together to resolve.

A one million dollar budget gap for the school system means that extreme measures will have to be taken. The Greene County School Board is committed to not eliminating position [sic] – we have reduced our staff by 38 positions over the last three years; however, if the budget passes as consented to at the May 2 workshop, the Greene County School Board may not be able to rule out the elimination of positions. Other options to consider include:

  • Drastic increase in benefits costs for employees
  • The elimination of essential programs such as the career and technical education center, the preschool program, school bus transportation, and/or athletics
  • Furlough days for all employees
  • Salary reductions

“None of these options are pleasant or easy. They will be painful for all and will mean a significant ‘step backwards’ for our nearly 500 school employees and nearly 3000 [sic] students, but this is the reality of cutting $1 million dollars [sic] out of an already lean budget. The BOS will hold a meeting on Tuesday, May 8th in order to formally approve this decision. Please, if you care about the future of our kids and of Greene County Schools in general, contact your BOS representative (http://www.gcva.us/dpts/admn/board.htm) and/or attend the meeting on May 8th. We are experiencing a significant budget crisis and the county is clearly able [sic] to help. We are all taxpayers, and we deserve a say in the decisions regarding the funds that we have contributed toward the reserve.”

On May 22 Peyton noted that the letter made several references to his position on budget allocations, and announced that he wanted to make some clarifications.

Those clarifications, Peyton said, had to do with “a couple of lines in paragraph three.” The lines he addressed were:

  • “During the May 2nd workshop Chairman Peyton confidently offered his support for another 5% increase for ALL county employees (excluding school personnel) and supported the hiring of several additional staff members within other county agencies,” and
  • “The School Board was invited to attend this ‘workshop’ but was not allowed to participate.”

Regarding the first statement, Peyton said, on May 22: “I did support a 5 percent increase for the county employees … to offset (Virginia Retirement System changes).” He explained that he had supported the raise for county employees because they had gone without a raise for two years after the current recession struck so that the county would be able to build its reserve fund. “The Board of Supervisors discussed it and it was a 3-2 consent. No one board member had more authority than any other. I didn’t do anything out of line on that. That was an open discussion with the board.”

Peyton also pointed out that supervisors have no authority over what public school officials do with the money they are allocated by the county.

“I admit that I did not offer school personnel an increase because none of the board members have any authority over any line items in the school budget,” Peyton on May 22. “We do a one-time allocation. They use those funds as they see fit. If  did have a say, I might suggest a math and science teacher over some other expenditures. But I have no authority over that.”

Regarding his support of the hiring of several additional staff members within other county agencies, Peyton said on May 22: “A concensus was reached by this board to backfill a vacant position in the treasurer’s office (at about $26,000) and we did that because we learned that the treasurer was looking at an excess of $1 million in delinquent taxes and needed to add personnel to (pursue that).  We believe we will get a million dollars back probably within a year. I think it is a good deal, and I did support that.”

Peyton said that a part-time position, that held by the county’s victim’s advocate, had been converted to a full-time position with the understanding that funding “would come from somewhere other than the taxpayers.”

In fact, the money used to finance that conversion is expected to reap benefits for the county. Reached after the meeting Commonwealth’s Attorney Ronald Morris said, “The fees from the enforcement of delinquent fines and costs will offset the increase in salary for the fulltime position.”

At the meeting, Peyton also noted that he had denied a request to convert a position in the county’s economic development office from part-time to fulltime.

“I certainly did not have a hidden agenda,” Peyton said. “The only goal I have is to be absolutely certain that every one of your tax dollars is used as best it can be used.”

He then addressed Harlow’s and Jeck’s complaint that they had not been allowed to participate in the May 2 workshop.

“The notification for the workshop was properly made,” Peyton said. “I do not recall any one of the board members specifically inviting anyone to it, but I do recall that during the workshop there was conversation between staff people and the school. I certainly did not deny anyone the opportunity to speak … if you were at the meeting at the performing arts center you would know that everyone who wanted to speak was given the opportunity to speak.”

Editor’s note: Normally, workshops held by the Board of Supervisors consist of discussions between supervisors. Although they are, as a rule,  open to the public, the public is there to observe, rather than to comment.

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