Stokes County Board of Education made the decision on Monday to send the budget for fiscal year 2016/17 back to Stokes County Commissioners requesting more funding to keep from cutting school resource officer positions or any portion of the local four percent supplement employees receive.
The budget drafted on June 28 cut the school current expense funding leaving the school system with a $782,357 shortfall from their proposed $11,337,935 budget.
The supplement, which is intended to provide school employees with four percent more than their salaries has been frozen at the 2013/14 salary level.
“It would be very unfair to ask our employees to take a pay cut when they’re not getting a true four percent supplement anyway,” said School Board Chair Sonya Cox. “We’re losing some of our best, brightest and most experienced educators to other counties because of the higher supplements that they pay.”
Board members were visibly frustrated and echoed this year’s budget would take the county backwards instead of forwards.
“It doesn’t even maintain the level of funding that we have seen in the past. We can’t even hold steady with this budget,” Cox said. “Ideally I would like to have a budget that would move us forward since we are trying to educate kids in the twenty-first century for twenty-first century jobs and try to get them college and career ready. The cuts that we’re looking at could dramatically alter the delivery of educational services to our students. It will impact our ability to retain quality experienced employees.”
The board discussed options of cutting a resource officer matching grant and possible positions to save the county $103,000.
“Operating without the needed SRO’s could put us at risk and make us more vulnerable in today’s climate. It’s essential, not just a wish to have SRO’s at every school if possible,” Cox said.
As a 13-year veteran on the school board, Cox said she hasn’t seen a budget year this challenging.
“It’s been one of the toughest years to bring both the state and the local budget into balance. With the amount of cuts we have gotten from the state coupled with the local shortfall, we have had to make additional cuts in personnel. We will probably start the school year with 30 some positions less than last year.”
Cox hopes the commissioners see the present budget is detrimental to everything they want to accomplish as a county.
“I would hope they would see that keeping our people employed would be a priority and understand how that helps the economy of our county.”
In spite of budget woes, Cox is encouraged that student achievement hasn’t suffered.
“It’s because we have some of the best teachers in the state here in Stokes County. They are dedicated to our schools and students and I can never say enough good things about how they do more with less every year. These teachers’ pay hundreds of dollars out of their own pockets to get their classrooms ready because they want our students to have the best educational experience they can offer.”
Cox commended Superintendent Dr. Brad Rice for quickly communicating with the county manager after being hired in June.
At Monday’s meeting, Rice concurred there was no quick fix to the problem.
“Next year we’re in trouble. It’s likely there will be supplement cuts unless there’s a tax increase,” he said. “I’ve had conversations with the commissioners. We can do this with our fund balance or we can do this with their fund balance. Our fund balance will be gone basically next year, and if we kept up this pace there’s will be gone in five or six years.”
Rice recommended the board send the budget back each year until the numbers come back at a respectable level.
“All they can say is no,” he said. “I think our teachers deserve fighting for.”
Amanda Dodson can be reached at 336-813-2426 or on Twitter at AmandaTDodson.