08/16/09 — Duplin Schools still awaiting final state budget

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Duplin Schools still awaiting final state budget

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on August 16, 2009 2:00 AM

Gov. Beverly Perdue signed the state budget into law a week ago, but it could be another nine working days before officials with the Duplin County school system know how many teachers they can hire for the upcoming school year.

The state is allowing school superintendents to shift money from textbook purchases or other uses to pay teacher salaries as a way to minimize the severity of staff cuts.

However, it's likely Duplin officials won't know how much money they have for teachers -- or anything else -- until after classes start.

"We haven't gotten our actual budget from the state, we don't have exact dollars," Duplin County Schools Chief Finance Officer Joann Hartley said.

While the state has given school superintendents discretion to shift some funds as necessary to pay teachers, "we don't know if we're going to need it," Mrs. Hartley said.

If the system runs short on money for teacher salaries, it will look into shifting funds this year, but everything is on hold until the budget paperwork arrives.

If the system has enough money to bring back some of the 30 or so teachers currently being "rested," that will happen, Mrs. Hartley said, but a contract must be in place before a teacher begins work.

Since the school system will probably not know until after the start of classes how many teachers it will hire for the year, keeping on teachers without being able to pay them could have resulted in contract problems. Avoiding such a situation was part of the reason why Duplin County Schools rested some of the teachers in the first place, Mrs. Hartley said.

Although the school system has not received its final budget, officials already know funding for transportation has taken a hit.

Transportation director Jeff Thigpen has scrambled to find a way to cut 686 miles a day from the county school bus route, which will add up to a savings of more than 123,000 miles over the course of the 180-day school year. The system could be forced to consolidate or cut some routes, and may park several buses this fall.

Other financial concerns for Duplin County Schools include a purchasing freeze that went into effect July 24 and prevents the school system from purchasing anything that is not directly related to teacher-pupil interaction.

"So, too, a lot of the things we need we can't buy it," Mrs. Hartley said. "They can't put anything in stock, they're saying just exactly what's needed."

After the governor signs a budget into law, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has to interpret the laws, apply the money and then assign it to the schools. By law the department must turn the money around within 14 working days.

"I know it's a massive job, and talking to some of them up there, they've been working day and night," Mrs. Hartley said.