11/18/09 — Duplin officials decide janitors will receive full pay for year

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Duplin officials decide janitors will receive full pay for year

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on November 18, 2009 1:46 PM

Janitors in Duplin County schools will receive their full pay this year, even though the money will have to come from the Duplin County school system fund balance.

The Board of Education voted to use $727,000 from its fund balance to make up the difference after state budget cuts created a shortfall. Without the addition from the fund balance, the county would have run out of money to pay clerical and custodial staff before the end of the school year.

Duplin County Schools Chief Finance Officer Joann Hartley appeared before the county commissioners this week to inform them of the decision and to provide information they requested about the system's fund balance.

"I'm not up for a fight this morning," she said, drawing laughter from board members and the audience.

Mrs. Hartley previously appeared before the board requesting permission for a budget amendment to use $727,000 in capital reserve to pay the janitorial staff, but commissioners denied the request.

The state was able to put some of the money back using federal stimulus money, but it was not matched dollar for dollar, and the low wealth funding the school system receives from the state could not be used to pay the custodians, she said.

With the addition of the fund balance money, the janitors will be paid, while funding from other sources will be used to help cover part of the cost of paying clerical staff. The fund balance money, similar to a savings account, is what is left over from the funds the school system does not use at the end of the year.

After using the fund balance money to pay the staff instead, Mrs. Hartley brought a different request before the board regarding the same capital money. She requested the commissioners approve a $727,000 capital project using the existing funding to buy equipment to upgrade the school system's technology infrastructure.

"I'm not a techie person, but I know it's old, it's slow, it's out of date," Mrs. Hartley said.

The Internet service at Beaulaville Elementary School was recently out for two weeks due to infrastructure failures, something extremely detrimental to the learning environment in modern schools, she said. Beaulaville and other schools often use smart boards, interactive and computerized blackboards, but can't use the full extent of the technology without reliable Internet access.

The money would not be enough to upgrade the entire school system's infrastructure, as the cost for that would be well above $700,000, but it would be a "tremendous start," Mrs. Hartley reported.

"We can't afford to have one of our schools down for two weeks at a time," she said.

The commissioners asked Hartley to return to the next meeting and discuss the details of how the money would be used if the request is granted.

Mrs. Hartley also presented information on the levels of the school system's fund balance to the board.

June 30, 2003 was the high point of the seven year figures she provided, with the school system retaining $5.5 million in its fund balance. That amount dipped down to $4.6 million in 2004, continued to fall to a low point of $2.6 million in 2006, rose to $3.9 million in 2007 and peaked again at $4.7 million in 2008.

"Did the school board know they had $4.7 million in the bank when they sued the board?" Commissioner David Fussell asked.

Mrs. Hartley responded that she had not been employed at the school board when that happened.

The estimated fund balance for 2009, unaudited, is $4 million. $1.922 million is appropriated for the 2009-10 school year, while the balance remains at $2.078 million.