Schools address financial issues, start looking to next year

First Posted: 1/17/2009

With the June 30 fiscal year end still months away, area school systems are already beginning to look at what type of funding they will receive and what they will do to get through the end of this year.
Gov. Bev Perdue has asked agencies to cut spending by seven percent to help decrease the expected $2 billion deficit. The cuts will provide about $1.1 billion toward that deficit with the hopes of another $900 million coming in aid from the federal government. However, she promised that the cuts would not come from the public education fund.
According to a release from the state finance office on Friday, next years budget for public education will likely be down three to seven percent from this year. However, the state will not ask for an additional reversion this year. All schools were asked for a 0.75 percent reversion of state money in November and were anxious as to whether or not there would be another one.
Even with this announcement, schools are still being forced to tighten their belts just like most other agencies. Officials say they are working to make sure every purchase and expenditure is necessary and doing everything possible to ensure any cuts do not affect the students.

Surry County Schools
Surry County Schools administrators have been looking into the budget situation for a while and trying to figure out ways that they can save money without affecting the classroom. They have also been wondering if and when the next reversion would come since the announcement of the last one.
Were trying to be cautious about what we have. Its not business as usual. We operate every day like we are (going to have a reversion), said Dr. Ashley Hinson, superintendent. Knowing its possibly coming is allowing us to save money ongoing.
Included among the efforts to be cautious is looking at all of the positions, particularly those that are vacant, within the school system. All of the vacancies are being scrutinized by the administration to determine if the position can be put under another heading or if it needs to be filled by a new person. While this will not address all of the budgeting concerns, it is a place to start that will not directly affect the students.
The system is also looking at the temporary positions such as tutors and others outside the normal classroom. Those positions may not be filled as they have been in the past. Summer school classes also are being scrutinized to make sure the facilities are used the best way possible.
Whenever you have less money, the first thing you try to do is look at places you can reduce and have it not affect the children directly, said Hinson.
His concern also is that with the troubling times, the at-risk students will become more vulnerable because of the lack of funding to provide remediation.
My biggest fear is that while the plight of the poor is getting worse, those with the best opportunity to help them are going to have less resources, he said. We believe we do a good job of addressing everybody. When you lose revenue, what youll more than likely lose are the at risk.
He also does not want to cause panic among the employees of the school system. He said he feels fortunate to this point that the schools have received as much as they have.
I dont want to create anxiety thats unnecessary. Everybody has to know its very difficult, he said.

Mount Airy City Schools
Mount Airy City Schools is in a unique position when it comes to state funding because it is a smaller school system.
Because there are fewer students, there is less funding provided. When a reversion is requested, the same number makes a larger impact because they had less funding to begin with. If current projections stand, the city school system could see an enrollment decline of up to 80 students for the 2009-10 school year.
We are having to do more and more with less, but so are all other state agencies. We are making the best of the situation we are facing, said Dr. Darrin Hartness, superintendent.
For the 0.75 percent reversion to the state requested in November, the city schools had to return $65,000. That money has already been found within the system and returned.
With no additional cuts or reversions, we are on track for the remainder of the school year. We are carefully considering every purchase order, but most of our state dollars not committed to salaries are already spent for this school year, said Hartness.
More than 70 percent of the budget for the city school system is earmarked for personnel. This means that if budget cuts continue, there is little chance that employment will not be affected. In order to prevent this from happening, the school system is looking toward alternative funding opportunities.
We continue to monitor our energy consumption. We look for ways to conserve and monitor utility bills each month, said Hartness.
The system has already planned to cut back on summer school and use the resources previously allotted for that to tutor students earlier in the year with the hopes of decreasing the need for summer school.
Officials are also looking for other grant opportunities, including applying for eRate funds which would help with technology. eRate is a federal program that is funded by taxes paid on telephone bills.
Hartness believes that despite the budgeting concerns across the state, Surry County has come out better than some.
We are fortunate in Surry County, out county is in good financial shape compared to some other counties in North Carolina, because our county finances have been well managed, he said. I hope our commissioners can continue to fund the schools at the level they have in the past.
Whatever the results of the budget for the 2009-10 school year, Hartness is confident the school system will continue to serve its students in the best ways possible. He hopes to be able to make decisions that will have the least effect on the classrooms.
My primary goal is that every decision I make and our other educators make is in the best interest of children, he said.

Millennium Charter Academy
Although Millennium is a charter school, it receives funding per pupil just like any other public school. Because of this, the school also is facing some budgeting concerns.
Charter schools receive their money in three allotments throughout the year. The 0.75 percent reversion, which they also had to pay, came out of the second allotment before it reached the school at the end of last calendar year.
They school has spent the year cutting a little bit of funding all along so that there were no drastic changes to the programs offered to the students.
According to a budget meeting Friday between the finance committee and Kirby McCrary, headmaster, the school has done well with that plan. They went through the budget line by line to ensure they were doing everything possible to make the most of the money they receive.
I was very pleased with the way it turned out in the budget meeting. Were not going to cut anything that were doing, said McCrary. I was apprehensive going into it but very pleased when we finished.
Although the school has come out all right this fiscal year, McCrary believes the state of the economy will also affect next years budget and the way the school spends that money.
Contact Morgan Wall at [email protected] or 719-1929.

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