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$3 million cut from Petersburg School Budget, action plan unveiled

Published: Sep. 15, 2016 at 2:26 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 15, 2016 at 2:43 AM EDT
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PETERSBURG, VA (WWBT) - A week after city leaders proposed cuts to stabilize Petersburg's perilous financial picture, the city's public school system unveiled new measures to meet a frugal future Wednesday, with proposals designed to cope with millions of dollars no longer on the table.

City council members removed $3.4 million from Petersburg's public school coffers, at a time when achievement scores remain below state averages by double digits.

At a Petersburg High School forum, superintendent Dr. Marcus Newsome outlined a two-pronged approach to eliminate the deficit.

"The good news is that our teacher salaries won't be going down," Newsome said. "The bad news is we won't be hiring new teachers."

The school system will leave 18 teaching positions vacant, saving an estimated $1.5 million. Three administrative hires will also be put on hold.

The second prong delays technology upgrades and postpones plans to reduce class sizes. The $1.9 million savings, including fewer standard classroom supplies and professional development opportunities, total a combined figure of $3.4 million.

"We wanted to make sure we had the tools to move forward," Newsome told the crowd. "Now that's going to be delayed."

But in the face of fewer resources, Newsome aims to engage more parents and devise ways to make school environments more supportive for students.

Greater involvement and data-driven decisions are the core tenets of a state mandated corrective action plan, with recommendations from Richmond and local parents set to be gradually implemented.

"This is a journey, not a race," said Dr. Patricia J. Johnson, the liaison now working with both the district and the state. "It's designed to be implemented over three to five years."

With Standards of Learning scores improving roughly 1 percent each year, reading test marks for the 2015-2016 school year are still 20 points behind the state average.

"If we do nothing, it would take 20 years to close that achievement gap," Newsome said. "We have to get involved and do something."

School board members will be presented with the superintendent's new financial plan Sept. 21. If approved, the measures would take effect the following week.

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