06/24/04 — School finances uncertain, says official

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School finances uncertain, says official

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 24, 2004 1:58 PM

School officials say they were blind-sided by this week's announcement that county commissioners demanded supplemental pay for teachers be increased by 3 percent and paid for by the school system.

Nan Barwick, assistant superintendent for finance, said the administration first learned of the decision when called for comment by a media outlet after the commissioners' budget session.

Wayne County Commis-sioners voted on Tuesday to increase the school system's funding by $760,000 as part of the county budget. The school system had also requested an increase in the teacher supplement, which has been at 3.5 percent for several years.

The commissioners decided to raise the supplement to 6.5 percent, but with the stipulation that it be funded by the school system. Cost to the school system is estimated to be $1.4 million.

Ms. Barwick said the announcement serves to complicate the budget process for the public schools.

"We're still working on this year and readying for next year," she said. "There's so many pieces out there that have not been put in this puzzle."

In addition to working on money for the local side of the budget, officials are waiting to learn what the state will support. That answer could come as early as June 30.

Ms. Barwick said there has been a widespread belief that the school system has an excess of funds available, but called that a misperception. She said money that is in the fund balance is for emergencies and payroll.

"We have about a 2 percent fund balance this year," she said. "There's about $2.4 million available, but you don't want to go any lower than that."

She said that if the school system did dip into the fund balance for purposes other than those designated, there would be consequences.

"The Institute of Government would have to come in and manage us because we would not be fiscally sound any more," she said.

Ms. Barwick said that if the school system had the money to provide the 6 percent supplement, it would have added it to the budget long ago.

"We can't create our own revenue," she said.

In the meantime, the plan is to call a meeting of the school board. Several board members are currently out of the country, she said, and one member had a death in the family this week.

"We're waiting to get them together," she said. "They will help decide the direction we go from here."

Dr. Steve Taylor, superintendent of schools, is also expected to release a statement soon. He reportedly met with County Manager Lee Smith on Wednesday afternoon to discuss details of the decision.

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