RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – If it seems like they are always talking about the Chesterfield County school budget, it's because we are. Just two weeks ago the school board approved the 2011 budget, which included cutting 300 teacher positions. Tonight, the district will begin the process of talking about their 2012 budget.
Shawn Smith is the Public Information Officer for the Chesterfield County Schools. He joined us on First at 4.
Ryan Nobles: It does seem like you guys are in a position where you need to talk about the budget all the time. You've already cut $80-million, programs, about 300 teachers. Frankly, what is there left to cut?
Shawn Smith: That's a good question and part of tonight as public engagement section to engage the community with where we are in Chesterfield County Public Schools. As a division we've cut $80-million in our budget, 600 positions, about 150 employees are being notified their contract is not being renewed this school year. We're looking to reduce our work force by almost 8%, a budget reduced by almost 20%, so this is a question about what can we do next and that's the conversation with the community. We've really engaged them and said we had a management audit through the Commonwealth of Virginia and came back and said Chesterfield County Public Schools are 99.3% effective and efficient, and the auditors said here are $4.5-million that you can be more efficient with and we said this is are great suggestions but we've already done $4.1-million of those. There's a conversation with our community about what is going to be different with our school division as we look forward.
Ryan Nobles: Is this customary to begin the process with the public? I know the administration is always looking far down the road in terms of budgeting but is this is earliest you've brought the public in to a budget discussion? We're talking two years out before this budget is implemented.
Shawn Smith: We have very engaged communities and they have been engaged from the get-go, and this is a conversation we had in years past. What's been different in years past is we're talking about reductions in funding and previously it's been what new programs can you create. Now it's looking at being effective and efficient. We talk to the community as your school division is going to be different than it has been in years past. This is what it looks like now. What will it look like in the future? As a system, we're effective and efficient but also we want to engage the community and say what is important to you, what are your top priorities and look at those as we move forward. We garnered a lot of attention because we're such a large school division.
Ryan Nobles: You've obviously heard a lot from students, parents and teachers; those directly impacted by Chesterfield schools. Do you think that this round of cuts will now begin to sink into the community at large that might not be directly impacted by having the student or someone that they love involved at schools?
Shawn Smith: It's difficult from our perspective; we've had this conversation for two years, as reduction has been coming from state and local levels. As you look at the school year coming up, I think that's going to be the first time people in the community can see the actual presence of those cuts. They walk back into the schools, they don't see a familiar face that used to be there, was always there. They're going to see a change in school programs. Certainly what guides our school programs is enrollment and student interest, but we're not going to offer the things we did in the past and the question for the community is, as we take this reduction, as things look different, how are things going to look different in the community?
Ryan Nobles: If you'll like to get involved, here's the information. Tonight 6:30 p.m. at the Chesterfield Technical Center on Courthouse Road. You can weigh in on the 2012 budget process.
See the video at right for the full interview.