Official in the county’s three school districts could need to tighten their belts even farther next fiscal year, if the budget is passed as proposed.
Paraphrasing the words of Mount Airy City Schools Superintendent Dr. Gregory Little, “There’s some positive signs but the word bleak is still in play.”
Local school boards are working with the Surry County Board of Commissioners, but both groups are bracing for less funding from federal, state and local sources.
That loss of funding places a strain on already-strapped systems, in what many administrators are calling a “funding cliff,” which could mean the loss of positions within the systems.
The Federal EduJobs Funds expired at the end of the 2011-2012 school year. These funds had been used to continue the employment of school personnel. The probable best-case scenario for the county, barring any additional funding, would require the loss of 10 positions, administrators say.
Compounding administrators frustration is a requirement from the state that a portion of money funded to the districts be returned, a mechanism know as “discretionary reversion.”
It is a process that frustrates many county leaders.
Discretionary reversion was explained by Surry Schools Board of Education Chairman Earlie Coe as “a man gives you $20 and then tells you he wants $5 back.” The projected increase in reversion funds was increased 17.2 percent this year to nearly $2.5 million in the county school system.
A Mount Airy City Schools previous budget message to the county commissioners stated it was anticipating a decrease in per pupil spending for the fifth consecutive year.
“We’re still waiting to find out what plans for the federal budget will be,” added Little. “A message I want to stress is that we are going to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. We are going to maximize every dollar we receive. The commission demands and expects high quality education for Mount Airy Schools and that’s what we’ll provide.
“The county commissioners have been wonderful to work with,” continued Little. “My impression is that they want to do what is best for Mount Airy City Schools.” He said that board will have to continue to live with the reality that budgets will continue to shrink. He said that projected enrollment allotments for Mount Airy have increased for the past two years.
“We have been blessed to have such hard working teachers who care about students,” said Little. “They’ve been tremendous through this budget stuff. They show up every day to give their best to the students.”
According to Surry County Schools Superintendent Dr. Ashley Hinson, the state is considering taking action to “back fill” some educational money that was lost in the expired funding. Officials anticipate the state budget to be approved around June 18. The challenge for local school budget preparations amounts to taking a shot in the dark until concrete figures are announced.
“It’s hard to do anything until the state and local budget figures are known,” explained Hinson. “Local schools don’t know what the need is until then.”
In the Surry and Mount Airy school boards’ request to the board of commissioners earlier this year, school administrators asked for the following:
• The boards have asked for the county to up the local per pupil appropriation to $1,125 next year. The current rate is $1,060. In the recommended budget currently under consideration by the commissioners, the rate is dropped to $1,015.
• School officials also have asked that the local per pupil capital funding be restored to $100 per student. The current rate is $50 per student, and the proposed budget for next year keeps it at the current rate.
“We do have an obligation to our workforce,” said Hinson. “This has an impact on others’ lives without the appropriate resources. Educators do not make widgets. If you miss an opportunity for a quality education, you can’t go back. You have to also consider the impact on the adults who depend on us for their employment.”
Hinson pointed out that there has been a decrease in funding for Surry County Schools for the past four years. He added that the system has not been replacing positions for the last four years due to natural attrition.
“There will come a time when losses will affect the learning of our children in the classroom,” said Hinson. “We’re going to do everything we can so at the beginning of the year I can say to everyone that was here, welcome back.”
Surry County Schools Director of Finance Wanda Mitchell, when presenting the budget to the board, said the system had eliminated about 70 positions since the 08-09 school year. The system has eliminated custodial positions and reduced the number of months assistant principals work. Additionally, the staff of the central office administration cut administrative salaries.
Reach David Broyles firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1952.