Schools see more cuts from state

First Posted: 4/14/2009

DOBSON With all eyes on concerns for the coming fiscal years budget, school systems across the state are still not out of the woods for this fiscal year.
According to a letter sent to school officials on Monday, the state has implemented a funding freeze until June 30. Until that time, the only funding that can be spent by schools, including K-12 schools, community colleges and universities, is for paying teacher salaries until the end of the school year.
Furthermore, it states that any purchase orders must have been submitted by April 9 to be filled and will only be filled as long as those orders are in house by April 16. School leaders didnt receive the letter until April 13, though.
Any funding which has not been spent and will not go toward teacher salaries is to be reverted to the state.
According to Susan Pendergraft, vice president for administrative services for Surry Community College, that results in $30,127 being reverted to the state. She told the SCC Board of Trustees at Monday nights meeting that Thursday is D-Day for purchasing. The funding freeze will also affect professional development for the college as many of their staff members travel to meetings and seminars and travel stipends are part of the frozen funds.
Mount Airy City and Surry County schools are also facing issues with the funding freeze. Mount Airy Middle School, for one, has set aside $11,000 to buy technology at the end of the year, money which now must be reverted to the state. Money earmarked for English as a Second Language programs will also have to be reverted since all of it has not been spent for this fiscal year.
You try to be conservative and you try to maximize your dollars, said Dr. Darrin Hartness, superintendent of Mount Airy City Schools, of the call for the freeze and additional reversion.
I think in our office it really tells us that we are in very difficult times, said Dr. Ashley Hinson, superintendent of Surry County Schools.
Surry Community College asks for slight increase
When Surry Community College officials presented a preliminary budget to the Surry County Board of Commissioners Tuesday night, it included an increase of 1.9 percent over last years budget.
That increase amounts to around $41,000, a total they were quick to point out as essentially unavoidable. Around $30,000 of that money will go toward fixed costs which the college has no control over, including fuel, power and water costs.
Tony Martin, chief financial officer, and Pendergraft put together the budget for the college, knocking it down to the bare bones required for the college to function. They estimated that fuel funding would need to increase about five percent, a guess Martin says is a shot in the dark. Duke Power told them to expect a three-percent increase in power costs and the $500 additional dollars requested for water costs comes from the bill fluctuating from month to month.
Despite the request for a slight increase, the commissioners seemed pleased overall with the colleges proposal.
Basically youre asking for a $41,000 increase, said Commissioner Paul Johnson. It looks good. Youve done a good job. Im shocked youve been able to do this.
The commissioners also asked about funding for capital projects. They asked the college to order its deferred requests in order of priority as it did with its requests for the coming year. The first six projects listed as priorities would come in at around $75,300, a deferment of an additional $110,000 in expansions, maintenance and repairs.
Another concern addressed by Chairman Craig Hunter was campus security and plans in place to ensure that remains. He suggested that the campus look into hiring an additional officer during the day who would patrol the campus perhaps on bicycle to supplement the one that patrols in a vehicle during the day and at night.
Campus security needs to be moved up on the county commissioners list. We need to look at it soon, he said. Your securitys important.
Surry County Schools asks for continued funding
The Surry County School System has asked the Surry County Board of Commissioners to maintain the funding for the school system that it provided last year in a preliminary budget request.
This request comes in light of the estimate that there will be around 70 fewer students in the coming year, mainly due to the change in the enrollment date for kindergartners. Given the lower number of students, the state has projected a lower average daily membership rate to accompany that. Hinson has asked that the commissioners acknowledge the lower ADM but continue to provide funding as if there were no decrease in enrollment. It is commonly accepted that the decrease in enrollment this coming year will be made up for the next year.
If we are able to keep funding at the same level, we will be very pleased, said Hinson.
He also noted that the state allotted for a two-percent salary increase for teachers in the state budget. He said he would be surprised if that increase made the final cut when it is adopted, but noted that there are a few very strong lobbyists for the increase.
If funding from the county commissioners remains the same, the school system would still receive $100 per student in capital outlay. School officials requested around $311,301 for trailers at the schools to maintain existing leases. Included in that is $150,000 to remove trailers from some of the elementary schools in the county once the new schools are built.
Hinson also requested that if the commissioners decide to continue to fund the technology grant for the schools that they allocate that money to the one-to-one laptop initiative underway in the school system. The technology grant money would equate to about $20 per child. It would take around $350,000 to buy the hardware for every student in the seventh grade to fully begin the initiative. The technology grant, which is around $160,000, would not cover that cost but would help to get the project underway.
We are well into that, he said. It will help us greatly if we are able to direct that to buying hardware.

Mount Airy City
Schools asks for
continuation of funds
Dr. Darrin Hartness, superintendent, and the Mount Airy City School System asked the Surry County Board of Commissioners to provide the same amount of funding for the school system as it did last year.
The system based its preliminary budget proposal for the 2009-10 year on a five-percent reduction from the state, the unknown issue of how federal stimulus monies will be spent, a step increase in salaries for teachers and principals, no change in the county funding and no fund balance. It is also based on an average daily membership of 1,617, a decrease of 54 students. That decrease, according to Hartness, is from the change in the cutoff date for kindergarten as well as the economic situation in the city.
We based it on a five-percent reduction, but five percent is not enough if thats (the senate version of the budget) final, he said, noting the 7.5-percent reduction in budget for K-12 schools proposed.
The city school system asked to keep capital funding at $100 per student and to keep the supplemental tax rate of 10 cents per $100. If funding per student remained the same, the per-pupil expenditure would remain $1,125.
We are going to try to live in the same piece of money as last year and youve just asked to do this, said Chairman Craig Hunter.
One specific request he made of the board can be deferred until the fall, but involves eRate funds. This is a federal program funded through taxes paid on telephone bills which can be used for expenses associated with telephones, cell phones, Internet hosting and Internet line charges accumulated by the schools.
In order to equip and install B.H. Tharrington Primary, J.J. Jones Intermediate and Mount Airy Middle schools with wireless Internet access, it would cost $620,000. If the county commissioners could match $160,000 in local funds, it would open the schools up to the possibility of further federal grants.
Its kind of a no-brainer to take advantage of the opportunities there, he said. They want to see some effort youve made to begin with.
Hunter noted that if the board put the special projects allocation for the school system to the eRate program, the money would be fairly close.
If we could infuse our classrooms with technology, I think that makes a statement, said Hartness.
Hunter noted that the commissioners will try to get a budget to the school boards as soon as possible so they can begin planning for the coming year and emphasized that they want to take advantage of existing trends by doing as much construction work as possible.
Contact Morgan Wall at [email protected] or 719-1929.

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