Purser Revises Proposal on Year-Round Schools
Academy Heights Elementary School could still close, but the option of year-round school may remain in the Pinehurst attendance area next year.
That option is a part of a revised budget proposal that Superintendent Susan Purser has provided to the Moore County Board of Education, along with parents and faculty at Academy Heights.
On Thursday morning, Purser was preparing to meet with Academy Heights parents that evening at West Pine Elementary School to discuss the new recommendation. (That meeting took place after The Pilot’s press time.)
She also planned to meet with faculty at Academy Heights Thursday afternoon.
The new recommendation calls for closing the Academy Heights facility in Taylortown and transferring its year-round program to Pinehurst Elementary and West Pine Elementary schools.
Students currently at Academy Heights would have the option to attend year-round school at Pinehurst Elementary for kindergarten through second grade and West Pine Elementary for third through fifth grade.
Both elementary schools will continue to operate on a traditional schedule, with the same grade structure along with these new year-round programs.
Students would also have the option to attend year-round school at Southern Pines Primary and Southern Pines Elementary school or to attend schools in their attendance area on a traditional schedule.
Purser said she and her staff would have to stagger school start times between Pinehurst Elementary and West Pine Elementary if the board approves the option in order to accommodate parents who may have children at both schools.
During her initial budget presentation March 14, Purser originally proposed that Academy Heights be closed and the year-round program be consolidated to Southern Pines’ elementary schools.
Since then, Academy Heights parents have asked the school system and the Board of Education to reconsider the recommendation and investigate the feasibility of keeping the school open or maintaining a year-round option in Pinehurst.
Purser said the new recommendation is a step toward maintaining the choice of a year-round school in the area, while also allowing the system to save money by closing Academy Heights.
“I feel like this is the next best option that we have,” she said.
Closing the school would save the school system $500,000 a year.
Purser said that if the Board of Education does approve the measure, she is interested in working with Taylortown Mayor Ulysses Barrett to establish a lease agreement that would transfer the facility to the town.
Academy Heights was originally built in 1934 as a K-12 school that served the children of the black community.
“That’s been my hope all along,” she said. “We recognize the value to the community, so we would like to work with Taylortown and see how the facility could serve the community.”
The school system is required to offer the facility to the county first before Taylortown would have a chance to make an offer.
Cuts in Other Areas
The latest recommendation to keep the year-round program in Pinehurst is the biggest revision Purser is making to her budget proposal, which reflects a funding reduction of $8.2 million — $5.2 million lost in federal stimulus funds and a $3 million cut in state funding.
Purser stressed that though the Academy Heights recommendation has been the most publicized item on her budget, there are several major reductions that will affect the system.
The current budget proposal calls for cutting more than 90 positions, which Purser has said she hopes to reduce mainly through attrition, and reduce school pullout programs, such as the English as a Second Language (ESL) or academically intelligently gifted (AIG) programs.
The proposal also eliminates PD360, an online professional development program, reduces middle school athletic programs and takes away orchestra programs at the elementary level.
Purser also recommended in her revisions that the school system retire 20 school buses, instead of 10, in an effort to consolidate the system’s bus routes to save money on transportation costs.
She has also added an additional day in August to a week of five designated days in December to close district offices and schools, which would save $6,000 per day in energy costs.
Purser’s revisions do not stray far from her original proposal, which does not account for the additional $3.3 million in cuts that the school system will likely have to absorb for a total loss of $11.5 million in funding.
Purser said that because the system could see even more cuts from the state before the N.C. General Assembly approves its budget, she does not want to propose additional cuts to the system without some direction from the board.
Gov. Beverly Perdue’s proposed budget recommends that the state pass on the costs of tort liability and workers’ compensation, which are currently paid by the state, to local school systems in order to reduce the state deficit.
Purser said she has heard that the General Assembly has been receptive to this option, which would add $1.5 million to the system’s costs for the coming year.
In addition to the $1.5 million, the system is also anticipating an additional $1.8 million in cuts from the state.
Now, the system expects an 8 percent cut in funding from the state for a total of $4.8 million. The system has been advised to expect cuts between 8 and 12 percent.
‘This Will Hurt’
As the school system anticipates greater funding cuts from the state, Purser says she is now looking to the Board of Education for direction on how to proceed.
The board must consider asking Purser to make additional cuts in funding to the system to accommodate the cuts or increase the system’s request for local funding from the Moore County Board of Commissioners.
The current budget proposal requests $27.5 million, which is the same amount allotted last year, from the Moore County Board of Commissioners.
Purser said that the system does not have the option to use more money from its general fund balance because the system wants to save half of its funds in preparation for budget cuts next year.
Currently, Purser is proposing that the system use $4.2 million from its general fund balance.
Purser said she was not in a position to speculate how the Moore County Board of Commissioners would respond to a potential increase in the request for local funding, but she added that the system typically tries to absorb funding cuts instead of passing on costs to the county.
“We have a responsibility to this community to be fiscally responsible,” she said. “Therefore, we have not exercised the practice of passing the cost to the county commissioners. Even when we have asked for more funding, we made reductions in what we were doing.”
Purser said that if the Board of Education directs her to make additional cuts, she would have to eliminate more positions.
“If we have to go back [and make cuts], it’s going to be in the form of people,” she said.
Though the current budget outlook is grim, Purser said she believes her current proposal is consistent with the system’s core beliefs and will maintain the quality of education for the system.
“This will hurt us no doubt, but we believe it’s something that will help us continue growing to greatness,” she said.
The board expects to vote on the 2011-2012 budget during a regular meeting at 7 p.m. Monday at Union Pines High School.
Contact Hannah Sharpe at email@example.com.
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