Now that the state government has finalized its budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year, the Stokes County school system is facing some tough choices on how to balance its own budget.
School Finance Director Lanette Moore provided the school board with an update on the status of school funding on Monday, telling the board local funding for this school year was $953,058 less than requested and the system was now also facing a variety of cuts in state funding, due partially to declining student population.
She said after receiving initial allotments from the state, the system was facing a total of $497,468 in reductions in state funding this year.
Moore noted that in addition to the funding decreases the system was also being limited in how it could use some of that funding.
She said one of the biggest problems is a change in how the system is allowed to use funding for teacher assistants. Last year the county used $91,844 in teacher assistant funding to help fill teacher positions, but the new state budget prohibits the use of those funds for other purposes.
“There is no flexibility to move monies out of that line item,” she said. “So we are probably going to have to look at using that funding for Exceptional Children teacher assistant positions.”
Board Chair Sonya Cox questioned whether the new state budget would also require the system to hire teacher assistants for third grade classrooms.
“That has not come out yet,” said Moore, “but if that happens then it would be a major concern.”
Moore said the other major hit in the state budget was funding for Low Wealth.
“Years ago we could use that for technology and staff development,” she said, noting that this year’s state budget cut Low Wealth funding for the county by $178,000. “Now we have to use it basically for positions.
“It is hard to find almost a million dollars,” she said. “A lot of our costs are operational and that does not leave much room.”
Moore said she had identified $749,928 in savings that could be obtained through a variety of belt tightening measures but said the board would still need to pull an additional $203,130 from its fund balance.
If the board decided to pull the additional money from the fund balance it would leave the system with only $340,438 in fund balance.
Moore said some savings were achieved through the closing of Francisco Elementary allowing the system to decrease the amount it spent on principal and assistant principal salaries and associated benefits. Other savings included $110,000 saved by not increasing the local teacher supplement to reflect state increases in salaries, decreasing the amount spent on utilities by $65,000 and decreasing the amount planned for bus operations by $40,000.
She said the state allotment for teaching positions covered 285.34 positions and the system’s proposed budget covered an additional five positions through local funding, leaving 14.77 teaching positions unfunded. She proposed covering the cost of those positions by using a combination of textbook funding left over from last year and pulling from a Medicaid fund balance. She said she also expected to get some savings from vacant positions that usually occur each year.
“Usually we will have one to one and half each year,” said Moore. “Some of this is a gamble.”
The school system is also facing growing costs to pay for students to attend charter schools.
“Millennium has gained about 20 students,” said Moore. “It appears the ones going there are from the King area. We have not received a bill from Forsyth Academy yet.”
Moore said that if the board approved her recommendations, it would mean depleting the system’s fund balance well below what was originally planned to balance this year’s budget and a lot of tough finagling of line items in the budget, but would not mean any loss of teachers this year.
“It is scary,” she said. “It is a lot of balancing and moving. We are having to use money that should be used somewhere else to cover these positions. You are short both on the state side and in local funding, but we are not telling anybody right now that they do not have jobs.”
Next year’s budget, however, could be a very different story.
“Our ADM is supposed to drop,” said Moore. “If that drops our state dollars will come down. If the county is not in a better position to help us we will have to lose a lot of positions next year. We will not have a choice.”
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.