School Board Gets First Look at Budget
Moore County school system administrators have put together what they believe is a "fair" budget in anticipation of at least $1.1 million in state reductions.
Though the budget forecast doesn't appear as dire as it was last year, Superintendent Susan Purser said the system still faces challenging economic conditions. She presented the proposed budget to the Moore County Board of Education Monday.
"I think we've put together a fair budget request that we're submitting," Purser said before the meeting. "Each year, we have demonstrated responsible leadership."
Last year, the school system endured almost $7 million in state cuts. Much of it was offset by $5.2 million in federal stimulus money, which saved 132 positions. But 50 positions were still lost. The stimulus funds expire at the end of the next fiscal year.
This year, the system has already been planning for the $1.1 million cut, but there is the possibility for more.
Purser said that the state was asked to put together 3, 5 and 7 percent reduction plans, but now it is focusing just on the 3 percent reduction plan.
"So that's a bit of good news," she said, adding that a 3 percent reduction at the state level would equal another $1.7 million in cuts. "But we don't know this yet. With last year's reductions, we have cut so far, we're not going to just cut to be on the safe side, because we would view that almost as being irresponsible at this stage. It might be cuts we don't need to make.
"For the time being, we know that's a possibility. We don't know how likely that possibility is. If that becomes a reality, we'll have to go back and do some reworking."
All of the information the school system has received so far indicates that would be a "worst-case scenario," Purser said
Of the expected $1.1 million state reduction, the state is not providing textbook funding this year, equaling $450,000. That leaves $650,000 in discretionary reductions the system will have to make.
The school system will ask the Moore County Board of Commissioners to appropriate $26.2 million for local current expenses and $1.13 million for its local capital outlay fund. Last year, the school system asked the county for $24.9 million for local current expenses.
The $1.3 million increase is attributed to $978,000 needed to operate two new schools - Crain's Creek Middle School and West Pine Elementary School - and additions to four elementary schools, $250,000 in local contributions for retirement rate increases and $150,000 in local contributions to health insurance increases.
The total impact of the retirement rate increase will be $1.2 million overall. The total impact of health insurance increases will be $600,000 overall.
Purser said the $978,000 to operate the new schools is significantly less than what was predicted in 2007 when it planned the bond referendum that financed the construction of the schools. At that time, the system predicted it would cost $1.5 million.
She said the system re-engineered the $978,000 cost by transferring one assistant principal position from New Century Middle to Crain's Creek Middle, and by sharing an assistant principal position between Pinehurst Elementary and West Pine Elementary. It identified other funds to cover school resource officer positions at the schools.
It is putting the leftover funds - $123,000 - toward teaching positions.
The school system's proposed total operating budget is about $104 million. About $57.9 million comes from the state and about $10.8 million from the federal government.
The school system anticipates spending $29.5 million in local current expenses and about $1.3 million in local capital outlay expenses. Local funding comes from other sources in addition to the county.
It plans to spend about $1.2 million of its fund balance this year.
The school system will also begin to fund its laptop computer initiative next year, though it will take a more conservative approach.
It will use one-time state capital funds and earmarked federal funds to finance it. It will also apply for grants.
Purser said it would not use any "new dollars" to pay for it.
Next year, it will begin to replace teacher desktop computers with laptops. It will start in the high schools, and work down to the middle schools. The elementary schools would be last, if funding is available.
It will also begin to place laptop carts in high schools and middle schools. All schools will receive wireless Internet access.
"Things are looking as though they're beginning to come back, but gradually," Purser said. "I think education is much like the rest of the world - we're being very cautious. You might say this is optimistic, but not over-optimistic."
The school board will have a public hearing on the budget on March 15. It will vote on it at a special meeting March 29. Both meetings are scheduled for 6 p.m.
Attend Lines Approved
In other business, the school board approved new attendance districts for both Crain's Creek Middle and West Pine Elementary.
The board adopted the second option for Crain's Creek Middle, which combines the attendance districts for Cameron Elementary and Vass-Lakeview Elementary. However, 17 students living in the western portion of the Cameron Elementary district will attend New Century because it is geographically closer and significantly reduces school bus ride times.
In its first year, 376 students will attend Crain's Creek Middle. About 60 percent will be free and reduced lunch students. The student population at New Century Middle will drop to 503 students, well below its capacity of 789.
About 40 percent of New Century students are on free and reduced lunch this year.
The board adopted a modified attendance district for West Pine Elementary. The new plan assigns students in Pinehurst's Village Acres neighborhood to Pinehurst Elementary rather than the new school. Village Acres is geographically closer to Pinehurst Elementary.
Next year, 394 students will attend West Pine Elementary, 336 will attend Pinehurst Elementary and 385 students will attend West End Elementary. It is estimated that 30 percent of the students at the new school will be on free and reduced lunch.
This year, 27 percent of Pinehurst Elementary students are on free and reduced lunch, while 42 percent students West End Elementary are.
Deputy Superintendent Larry Upchurch said he expected there would be little change at those schools either, but added the student populations at the three schools should mirror each other "quite well."
Purser said the revised plan achieves a "better balance" between the three schools.
Contact John Krahnert III at (910) 693-2473 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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