Martinsville City Public Schools would appear to have plenty of cash to meet the needs of its 2020-21 budget -- if only officials could figure out how to spend nearly $2 million.
MCPS Superintendent Zebedee Talley presented a revised budget to Martinsville City Council on Wednesday night that reduced the school division's request from the city to $6,335,374, down from the $6,388,276 he had presented at a public hearing before the COVID-19 pandemic.
That doesn't include $900,000 MCPS expects from the CARES Act stimulus bill and another $1 million sitting in a fund that has flummoxed administrators about how they can use it.
So in his presentation Talley made some significant adjustments:
- Raises of 2% for teachers, $17,924 for bus drivers and $93,744 assigned to step-increase raises were eliminated.
- State grants expected to have been $891,624 were revised to $495,320.
- Insurance funding was increased by $63,210 so employees would not see a net reduction in pay.
- A capital request for $160,000 to purchase two school buses remained.
But that idea immediately was stricken by city council. “You know you’re not going to get your school buses, right?" City Manager Kathy Lawson said.
Talley, presenting during the first of a series of workshops designed to review the draft budget council had received on Tuesday, encouraged council members to fund his requests, but he said he understood the financial obstacles that council faces.
“We want to continue on our pathway to success,” Talley said. “What we’re asking for … because we feel like our students deserve it.
“We have groups of people [educators] coming here looking at what we’re doing. Over half [of graduating students] will be attending PHCC [Patrick Henry Community College] on a full ride. Every student will have the ability to fulfill their dream.”
When Talley finished his appeal and council members had discussed their options, City Manager Leon Towarnicki informed the room that Talley was asking for $130,359 more than what he had recommended the city allocate.
“That’s a whole lot less than what it usually is,” Council Member Danny Turner said.
But those millions?
Then the discussion turned to money that both the city and the school division aren't sure quite how to handle.
Towarnicki had told council on Tuesday that the city would be getting about $1.1 million in federal money in early June because of CARES.
And the council members learned during this work session that MCPS officials anticipate receiving more than $900,000 in federal funds because of CARES.
Both city and school officials said those grants come with a long list of stipulations on how they can be used. Turner asked if the $130,359 difference could come out of the city's federal money.
“I don’t think we can allocate that to the schools, and the schools have a different set of criteria [for their federal allocation],” Towarnicki said. “We can’t do a transfer of $1.1 million - it’s not going to qualify - it doesn’t fit the criteria.
Those criteria are, he said, “vague at best, and the records are subject to audit. At the end of the process you have to be able to justify that decision - if you made the wrong decision, you might have to pay it back.”
Said Turner: “Well surely the school system can get 130 [thousand] out of that.”
Towanicki suggested council revisit acceptable uses of the money “in several months” after more information is available.
Then Lawson and Turner questioned Talley about a cafeteria fund that has more than $1 million in it to feed students who qualify for free or reduced lunches.
“It continues to increase,” Talley said. “Go ahead, Travis."
Talley pushed the microphone over to Travis Clemons, his executive director of administrative services.
“We’ve been on this one quite a few times - talked to specialists - there are a couple of hangups,” Clemons said. “It’s allocated to instruction and for extra expenses regarding delivery [of meals to homes during the pandemic] -- you can’t just use it.
“We’re making money - it’s unfortunate - we have a very high participation rate [in free meals programs], and the feds reimburse us, and they set the rate of reimbursement.
“We have over a million dollars sitting there, and we can’t use it. We see that pot of money - had a formal review - asked for advice on how to spend that money … but we’re getting more reimbursement than we can spend.”
Talley said he hoped, given the flush of federal money to both the city and the school system, that $130,359 gap can be funded out of it.
“I’d like to cover it through the CARES Act [allocation],” Talley said. “We know the buses are scrapped - we’re going to work with each other, we always do.”
Said Lawson: “Council will deliberate on this, and we will let you know.”
Health department seeks boost
Penny C. Hall, chief operations officer of the West Piedmont Health District, requested $203,030 from the city for Fiscal Year 2021, an increase of 2.3% from the prior year.
“We’re trying to increase population outreach,” Hall said. “We’re trying to potentially add a part-time or full-time position for that outreach.”
Hall said the health department continues to operate in emergency mode according to protocols during a pandemic as a result of COVID-19.
“We’re probably going to get two contract tracers in addition to what we’re doing,” she said.
The COVID-19 testing site at the Martinsville Speedway is under the operation of the district and funded by The Harvest Foundation.
“We are looking to move that site because the race is coming,” said Hall. “We are looking for an alternate location. Right now we’re open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 12 noon to 4 p.m. We just don’t know where the new location is going to be.”
Funding for the health departments in the district are shared by the governments of each locality and predetermined. Henry County, Patrick County and Franklin County also contribute.
Hall’s request for $203,300 had been mandated in the budget and did not have to be approved.
City Council has scheduled a work session on Tuesday for city departments, constitutional officials and capital requests; and on June 4 for follow-up as may be needed.
A public hearing on the budget has been set for June 9, and the budget is set to go into effect on July 1.
Bill Wyatt is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached at 276-638-8801, Ext. 236. Follow him @billdwyatt
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