School Board OKs Budget, Revisions to Year-Round
The Moore County Board of Education has approved its budget for the 2011-2012 year, but many are unhappy about its potential impact on the school system.
During its meeting Monday night at Union Pines High School, the board unanimously approved a budget that reflects a $12.1 million funding shortfall.
Prior to approving the budget, the board voted 7-1 to close Academy Heights Elementary School and relocate its year-round program to Pinehurst Elementary School for kindergarten through second grade and to West Pine Elementary School for grades three through five. Board member Dale Frye cast the dissenting vote.
The measure will create a dual-track program at both schools by offering a year-round option, while also maintaining the traditional K-5 grade structure that is already at each school.
Superintendent Susan Purser said the measure would keep the option of year-round school in Pinehurst, where the program originated years ago.
In her initial proposal March 14, Purser recommended closing Academy Heights and consolidating the year-round program at Southern Pines Elementary and Primary schools, which already offer the option.
After hearing a large outcry from Academy Heights parents asking that the system keep the school open or maintain the year-round option in Pinehurst, Purser revised her recommendation in hopes of providing a better alternative.
The new recommendation would save the system $375,000 a year instead of the original proposal, which was estimated to save $500,000.
Purser reiterated that the closure of Academy Heights has been a part of the system's facilities master plan, which was approved by the board in 2006.
Though Academy Heights parents are not happy that the school will be closed, some are relieved that at least the option of a year-round program remains in the Pinehurst attendance area.
Parents Feel Left Out
However, parents from Pinehurst Elementary and West Pine Elementary expressed anger that the school system failed to let them know about the recommendation or provide detailed information outlining the potential impact of the dual-track program on either school.
Many said they are frustrated that Purser and the board took time to hear Academy Heights parents' concerns, but they did not offer the same consideration to Pinehurst and West Pine parents.
Purser met with Academy Heights parents Thursday at West Pine Elementary School to present the new recommendation before making her revisions public.
Judith Borden, a West Pine parent, told the board she attended that meeting, where she said Purser was "gracious" in addressing Academy Heights parents' concerns.
"However, neither West Pine Elementary students' parents, nor Pinehurst Elementary students' parents were allowed to voice their opinion at the time," she said.
Parents were asked to submit their questions or concerns on note cards during that meeting.
Borden emphasized that the year-round program in Pinehurst is a "nice-to-have" option that would benefit a select number of children at the expense of 800 traditional students.
She said her son had to leave Pinehurst Elementary last year after redistricting placed him in the West Pine Elementary attendance area.
"He had no choice," she said. "Other students in the county have no choice in selecting what school they go to."
She asked why the board would be willing to lose $125,000 in savings by relocating the year-round program to Pinehurst, instead of consolidating it in Southern Pines, if the budget situation is so dire. She added that if parents truly want their children to participate in year-round school, they should arrange to go to Southern Pines, where the program is currently offered.
"The choice can be made - their choice," she said.
'Down the Road'
Parents were especially concerned about the potential influx of students that would place both schools much closer to their enrollment capacities, despite the fact that the system redistricted the Pinehurst attendance area last year to address overcrowding.
Parents said the information regarding the proposal had been compiled too hastily for the board to make a well-informed decision about how projected population growth could place the attendance area in the same overcrowded situation it was experiencing last year.
West Pine opened this year to alleviate overcrowding at Pinehurst Elementary and West End Elementary School.
Before West Pine was built, Pinehurst was over capacity with roughly 680 students enrolled. Pinehurst currently has slightly more than 400 students enrolled.
To accommodate the additional 250 students from Academy Heights, Pinehurst Elementary will use mobile classrooms on its campus, and the system will have to move two to three mobile unites to West Pine Elementary from New Century Middle School.
Parents were also concerned that the schools will have to bear an additional burden by accommodating students who live outside the Pinehurst attendance area.
Academy Heights currently has 75 students in kindergarten through fourth grade who do not live in the Pinehurst area.
During a break in the meeting, Mark Feggeler, a parent of two students at Pinehurst Elementary, said he worries that the year-round program will displace elective teachers and guidance counselors who have utilized the vacant mobile units on campus as offices and classrooms.
Before the mobile units were vacant, Feggeler said art teachers were holding classes in the school gymnasium's old locker rooms, which have been converted into classrooms.
Feggeler added that with a reasonable enrollment at the school this year, teachers feel less burdened by the number of students coming through the doors.
"All of the staff at Pinehurst Elementary seem rejuvenated in their ability to serve the population because it is a reasonable number of students that they can get to know," he said.
Several parents asked the board to delay voting on the measure so the system can have more time to consider the impact of the relocation with a more thorough study.
Board member Bruce Cunningham said he did not want to delay a vote because doing so would promote a continued atmosphere of uncertainty for students. He added that the board must act now to prepare for what lies ahead for the school system.
"We make the best decision we can here and now," he said. "And we prepare for what comes down the road."
Board member Lorna Clack asked that parents be open and receptive as the school system deals with unprecedented funding shortfalls that will result in the loss of at least 90 positions among other severe cuts that will impact every Moore County student.
"I'm sure the children will all get along fine and become friends," she said. "I anticipate that the same thing will be true of the adults involved. Please try."
More From County
After the Academy Heights vote, Purser presented her revised budget to the board, which now reflects an anticipated funding shortfall of $12.1 million instead of the original $8.2 million she projected at the beginning of the budget process.
Last week, Purser said she was preparing for an $11.5 million funding loss, but she said at the meeting that the system is continuing to revise its budget as the N.C. General Assembly works closer to a solid number.
In her revised budget proposal, Purser asked the board to consider using $5 million from the system's general fund balance and finding the remaining $2.1 million by either asking the Moore County Board of Commissioners for more local funding or by making additional cuts to the system.
Purser also proposed that an additional position be cut from the system's central office.
Of the $12.1 million lost, the budget outlines roughly $5 million in direct cuts to the system.
The board chose to alter Purser's recommendation and voted unanimously to use $4 million of its general fund balance, instead of $5 million, and to ask the Moore County Board of Commissioners for an additional $3.1 million in local funding.
The system's local funding request from the Board of Commissioners now totals just under $30 million.
Board chairwoman Laura Lang said she did not feel comfortable using more than half of the system's projected $8 million fund balance to fill holes in this year's budget because the system also needs the money to fill additional holes next year.
Lang said using half of the general fund balance is a "step-down" approach toward addressing the eminent funding gaps that the state will hand down when it approves its two-year budget in coming months.
"At least at the end of this budget, we'll have an idea [of what to expect next year], but that also tells us that we're not getting that money back again next year," Lang said. "If we fill in even $4 million of our fund balance this year, that's still going to mean additional cuts for us next year because we don't have the fund balance left to fill those gaps."
Purser added that the school system has been preparing for the loss of $5.2 million in federal stimulus funds by trying to build up its general fund balance over time to ease the burden caused by reductions.
"We have put in energy cost savings, operational cost savings all along," she said. "We have been building that fund balance up."
Board member Kathy Farren said that despite uncertainty that the commissioners would fulfill the entire request, the board must act to preserve the quality of education with funding cuts by asking for more local funding.
"If we are going to try to protect our students and our schools, and we are making all these deep cuts, we have the right to ask for more," she said. "We can't get it if we don't ask."
The commissioners expect to hear a presentation on the school system's budget April 19.
On May 3, the commissioners will hear County Manager Cary McSwain's budget proposal for the county, which will include a recommendation on local funding for the school system.
A public hearing on the Moore County budget will be held May 17.
Contact Hannah Sharpe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story