05/28/06 — Duplin schools wait for budget numbers

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Duplin schools wait for budget numbers

By Turner Walston
Published in News on May 28, 2006 2:04 AM

KENANSVILLE -- Still waiting for a definitive budget from the state and county, the Duplin County Board of Education can only make projections on who will pay what and how much for programs and facilities during the school district's next fiscal year.

"The Board of Education proposal has been passed some time ago," Superintendent Dr. Wiley Doby said Thursday. "As far as implementation of the budget, we have to be on hold right now, both for the local level and for the state level."

On Thursday, Duplin County Commissioners proposed a 3.5 percent property tax increase to balance the county budget, which includes a $500,000 increase in current expenses for the school system, up from the nearly $6.1 million allotted for 2005-06. The Board of Education initially asked for $10.1 million from the county.

The new request doesn't include frills, Doby said.

"That's day-to-day operation of the school system," he said.

Dr. Bob Tart serves as interim finance officer for the Board of Education. Although he retired as associate superintendent for Finance in July 2004, Tart was asked to come out of retirement in January, when finance director Gretchen Thigpen retired.

Tart said three pieces critical to planning a budget are still missing: Low-wealth money from the Department of Public Instruction, salary adjustment guidelines for instructors and appropriations from the county commission.

"Without those three pieces, the only thing we can do is develop a planning budget," Tart said. "We have to have a balanced budget in place on July 1, and without those three pieces, we can project revenue at some conservative level, and adopt a budget, and then adjust when we find out what the pieces are going to be."

The current expense appropriation from the county commissioners for the school system was about $6.1 million in 2005-06.

"That's also the same amount they gave us in 2005," Tart said. "Our expenses haven't remained at the same level, especially fuel and energy and just the general cost of doing business, and most of the operating expenses of the school system do come from local expenses, from the county commissioners."

Based on indications from commissioners and state and federal funding sources, Tart said the school system will be making cuts.

"We're going to be going through a similar process that the county commissioners have in terms of identifying priorities for the budget," he said. "We'll probably have to adopt an interim budget because we don't have all the pieces of our revenue.

"When we get all of the pieces, then we'll start trying to put that puzzle together and see what kind of picture it gives us."

Tart said he knows the state Senate has turned over a budget to the House, but he's waiting for a final answer.

"I don't follow, day by day, what goes on there, because I stay pretty busy following, day by day, what goes on here," he said.

"We have to take the money that we know we're going to have and then do with it what we can," Doby said. "We really don't know definitely where we can make cuts."

Although he is only scheduled to work through June 30, Tart said he would be willing to consult the Board of Education after that date if it would not affect his retirement.