12/03/08 — Schools have ways to meet state's demand for money back

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Schools have ways to meet state's demand for money back

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on December 3, 2008 1:46 PM

School officials have identified areas where nearly $760,000 can be cut by year's end to meet the state's demands to offset its budget shortfall.

Late last month Wayne County Public School was notified by the Department of Public Instruction of the request, totaling $58 million from the state's 115 school districts. Recommendations are due to the state by Dec. 19.

Based on student population, the amount equates to about $39 per student. In a district Wayne County's size, which has more than 19,000 students enrolled, its portion came to $759,977.

"We have had to look closely at our budget, to look at items that we'll have to basically put on hold until the end of the year, hoping that some of that funding in some way and some means, can be restored, and also our hope is that at year's end, this will not be a permanent reversion," Dr. Steven Taylor, superintendent of schools, told the school board Monday night.

Nan Barwick, assistant superintendent for finance spelled out the specific cuts this morning.

"We're going to cut classroom materials and supplies 21 percent, or $313,474; staff development $77,416, or 31 percent of its total budget; vocational supplies and materials, $181,312, or 22 percent; and then we're going to move one assistant principal from state funds to local funds, representing $60,705," she said. Another $127,070 in school connectivity money -- a new allotment received last year for technology -- will also be postponed until the following year, Mrs. Barwick said.

And, she added, because of the uncertainty about future requests for cuts, a contingency plan has been made, reducing departmental budgets -- which includes central office, operations, technology, public relations and maintenance -- by 5 percent.

The announcement has been untimely, Taylor said, coming mid-year for the school system.

The "negative reversion" has been done in the past, he had said earlier, but is typically done before school gets under way.

The situation is compounded by the fact that the last time such a reversion occurred, staff positions were cut by attrition -- mostly through retirement -- but were never restored by the state. To cut personnel further would create problems in an already-lagging economy.

"Every dime of this money is needed," Taylor said. "We don't want to revert a dime. We need additional funding on top of what we receive now."

It's never ideal to take away budget items that impact programs and classrooms, Mrs. Barwick said, but in many ways it is the best course of action.

"While we hate to make these cuts and they're necessary for the classroom, without sending personnel home, these were the areas identified that we feel would be the least harmful," she said. "We have even checked with surrounding counties and this seems to be the most prominent way that they're doing this.

"I hate that we're having to do this. We're trying to make the best of the situation."

While officials will continue to look at retirements and resignations as a means of making cuts, she said that with the holidays approaching, principals and staff have expressed appreciation that no cuts had to be made to personnel at this point.

Once the allotments are received and accepted by the state, the school board will be asked to approve the changes to the local budget.

Meanwhile, newly-elected Board Chairman George Moye Monday night suggested the possibility of tapping into a potential resource through the county commission.

"I think I recall at some point in time the county commissioners appropriated some money for the school system, but at that particular time, they needed to keep it in their fund balance to enhance their fund balance," he said. "Maybe we ought to check and see what the parameters are for getting the money that was appropriated to us and has not been received at this point."

Taylor said he would look into the possibility of accessing the funding.

Also at its December meeting, the board chose Rick Pridgen as this year's vice chairman, welcomed recently-elected Eddie Radford to the at-large seat, and announced it had been recognized by the N.C. School Boards Association Academy for School Boardmanship in recognition of exemplary training by each board member.