02/17/09 — Consultants find $2.8M-plus in cuts in Duplin schools

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Consultants find $2.8M-plus in cuts in Duplin schools

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on February 17, 2009 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Duplin schools have too many cafeteria workers, assistant principals and administrators, according to a consulting firm hired by the Duplin County commissioners to assess the financial state of the county's schools.

The school system could save almost $15 million over the next five years by implementing all of the consultant's recommendations, Evergreen Solutions president Linda Recio told commissioners and school officials Monday during the county board's regular meeting in the Social Services Building.

The schools could save more than $450,000 a year by employing assistant principals on 11-month contracts rather than a full year and having at least seven fewer of them.

The consulting firm also recommended saving another $100,000 a year by reducing administrative costs and $50,000 a year by trimming legal expenses.

If the school system follows the consultant's reccomendations, Mrs. Recio said, it could save $2.8 million.

Just converting two vacant assistant teacher positions into one teacher position each of the next five years could save $16,000 the first year, double that the next year and end up saving a total of $243,000 by the end of the five years, she added.

Evergreen Solutions came up with 36 recommendations.

Included on the list was a suggestion that the county schools drop unfunded mandates when the money stops coming from the government. In a written response, school officials said that cannot be done.

Commissioner Harold Raynor said an official with the state County Commis-sioners Association told him line items like teacher salaries are supposed to be paid for strictly with state funds. If the state cuts teacher funding, the county is not required to take up the slack.

By doing away with the unfunded mandates and taking other streamlining measures, Mrs. Recio said the school system could save almost $1.7 million a year for the next five years with a final total savings of almost $8.4 million. Streamlining other operations could save $1 million the first year and more each year with a final five-year total of $6.5 million in savings.

The consulting firm, based in Florida, charged the county $75,000 to study the public school system's budgeting and spending practices. Experts in several areas looked at management, operations and performance.

Commissioner Reginald Wells said a similar study for the county might be advantageous.

"We constantly hear we have too many employees," he said. "It may be good to have a professional eye to identify ways we can clean our own house."

Wells moved to have a performance audit done for the county. Commissioner Zettie Williams seconded the motion.

Commissioner David Fussell was absent from the meeting. The five remaining commissioners voted unanimously to have the county manager negotiate a price and then come back with a recommendation for the commissioners to vote on a final decision later.

Commissioner Chairman Cary Turner said Mrs. Recio gave him a rough estimate of about $120,000 for all departments. Because of the complexity of departments, each one would have to be studied by an expert in that field.

"When we go to a school system, we call in educators," she said.

And if she were to come to Duplin to look at the Sheriff's Office, she would bring a law enforcement expert.

"The increase in cost has to do with the specialization," she said. 'You don't want a sheriff looking at the Department of Social Services."