Schools Brace for More Cuts
Federal stimulus funds are keeping the Moore County public schools afloat by saving personnel positions that would have been lost because of sharp cuts in state funding this year.
But those funds will not return, and the state's economic picture has not improved.
The local school system expects another $1.1 million in reductions from the state of North Carolina for the 2010-2011 year. That's considerably better than the $6.9 million in state reductions in this school year, but the stimulus funds won't be there to make up the difference.
"The reductions largely translate into people, because we are a people business," said Superintendent Susan Purser during the county commissioners' Dec. 10 budget planning retreat.
She was one of several leaders asked to report on their financial positions during the retreat, a one-day work session held at the Moore County Airport terminal building.
By applying the stimulus money, the school system was able to shift 132 positions, saving numerous teaching positions and clearing the way to apply other funding sources to critical operational areas.
The state reduced funding to the Moore County school system by $6.9 million, but with the infusion of $5.2 million in stimulus funds, the net reduction was $1.7 million. That was bad enough, but it eased the crisis.
"Now that money is going to expire," Purser said of the federal money.
To make up the losses, the school system cut 182 positions, including 17 teachers. The other cuts were 151 nonteaching positions and 14 positions in the central office.
"The most important employee we have in the Moore County Schools is the teacher," Purser said.
As of November, the system had 807 teaching positions, 721 funded by the state. Moore County provides funds for 46 teachers, and 40 others are paid with federal (non-stimulus) funds.
Purser explained that the system always assigns the higher-funded teaching positions to the state, a practice that stretches local funds further. The county appropriation is usually directed toward specialized positions, such as the arts and physical education, that are not covered by the state.
"These are all classroom teachers, all vital positions," she said.
As of late June, the school system had a fund balance of $4.7 million, of which $2.3 million was undesignated.
The balance represented 8.2 percent of the schools' operating budget, slightly above the minimum percentage required by the Local Government Commission.
"This is always one-time money," Purser said.
Purser said the system has been drifting into the fund balance this year to cover some recurring costs because funds were not available from other sources. Purser said the schools do not have adequate money for essential repairs to roofs and it has been necessary to dip into the fund balance to meet that need.
"It is not going to go up, but I hope we can hold on to the minimum amount required," she said of the fund balance.
Another funding need in the next budget year will be operating costs for new schools and additions to existing campuses, which will require additional personnel, utilities, maintenance funds and a school resource (security) officer. This figure is estimated at $978,000, all to come from local funds because the state will pay only for principals.
Commissioners Chairman Tim Lea asked about the time frame for the new high school.
Purser said this is one of the school board's goals but the system is not yet on the threshold of Phase II of its master plan. She expects to return with the second phase in the new year, when the schools will be ready for dialogue on the next phase.
Commissioner Cindy Morgan asked about the dropout rate, which is less than the state average of 4 percent. However, Purser said a more accurate reflection of student accomplishment would be the graduation rate, about 70 percent in the past four years.
Enrollment is about 12,200, little changed from the previous year.
Commissioner Nick Picerno asked for more details about local funding of retirement and health costs and suggested that the two boards get together for a discussion of county funding needs.
"We want to know what it takes to run the schools, what the schools really need," said Lea.
Lea also suggested a joint conversation with the Board of Education on funding needs in the new school year.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at (910) 693-2479 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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