05/05/09 — States wants $500K back from Wayne

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States wants $500K back from Wayne

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 5, 2009 1:46 PM

School officials, anticipating next year's budget, received word late Friday that the state is asking for its second reversion of funds -- this time in the amount of $537,199.

Their "mouths dropped open" when they heard, said Nan Barwick, assistant superintendent for finance. She addressed the school board Monday afternoon for a work session called to discuss the local budget proposal and give an update on the state budget.

The late-week announcement was unanticipated, she said.

"We are all thinking, 'It's May and where in the world are we going to get this kind of money from?'" she said.

The national and state economic situation has trickled down to the school district, which this year has already felt the pinch of withheld lottery funding, the reversion of $760,000 to offset the state budget's shortfall as well as the state's announced freeze on spending.

"We were actually fortunate that our purchase orders for schools had been submitted," she said of the latter. "What had been ordered was received in the time frame so we didn't actually have to cancel any orders."

It should have been a regular work session to discuss the pending budget. Instead, Superintendent Dr. Steve Taylor called it an "unusual time" for the state and nation.

"Budgets are very tight," he said. "Seems like every day in Raleigh we're receiving bad news."

While no increases were expected for 2009-10, at this point nothing is guaranteed, Taylor said.

"We have been keeping up with what's going on in the General Assembly," he said, noting that the budget has since gone to the Senate and is now on the House side. "It looks like the House side is making larger cuts than the Senate.

"We have been assured that we will get our budget completed by the end of June, hopefully, because we need to do that to get started for the upcoming year. We have not laid out what our budget cuts will be."

Despite the tenuous situation, Taylor applauded the efforts of legislators.

"They have responded to me, called me back," he said. "I appreciate that open communication, whether it's good news or bad. But it does appear that we are going through some budget cuts for the upcoming year."

Cutting personnel is a big concern, Taylor said, and one he hopes to avoid.

"Certainly we will try if it's personnel, to make as many cuts as we can through attrition. That's the way we have done it in the past," he said.

Gov. Beverly Perdue last week issued an order to reduce salaries, prompting school officials to investigate what that will mean and how it might be accomplished.

"We're supposed to get information on that the end of the week or the first part of next week," Mrs. Barwick said.

"I have been in the business a long time, I have never seen the budget like it is now," Taylor said. "It's the toughest crisis we have ever had to deal with, but it's not just Wayne County."

The superintendent said the district will do all it can to stay afloat, relying on recent stimulus funding, although some of that is "categorical money" and might be restricted in its use.

"It will not be business as usual -- it cannot be -- given the hand that we have been dealt," he said. "We won't know until the dust settles and the budget is finished. .... (Meanwhile) our folks are moving forward."

Despite the unsettled situation, Taylor said the district will request the same amount as last year from the commission, with plans to return to the school board for further discussion in September or October.

"As soon as Raleigh comes back with the budget, that's when we'll come back to you," he added.

The district's proposed local revenue budget for 2009-2010 totals $22.5 million. The local appropriation being requested from the county is $18.2 million, plus the expansion budget -- $150,000 for the WISH school-based health centers, $250,000 for the second year promised on the county's K-2 summer school program, $110,000 for the mobile preschool and $587,000 for Edgewood Community Developmental School.