Big Cuts Loom for Schools
For a power point presentation on the proposed budget, click here.
Closing Academy Heights Elementary and personnel reductions are among some of the drastic steps the Moore County school system might have to take next year.
The system is facing the most significant budget cuts in its history, Superintendent Susan Purser told the Board of Education and a packed room at the central office Monday as she outlined her budget recommendations for the 2011-2012 year.
Though she presented what she called a “best-case-scenario” budget, Purser painted a grim picture of how the system can address at least $8.2 million lost in state funding for the coming year.
Purser added that she believes the system will have to absorb even more funding cuts from the state, which is expecting a $2.4 billion shortfall in its own budget. The school system has lost $10 million in state funding over the past four years.
Purser said nothing was sacred when it came to making difficult but necessary cuts that would ensure the system’s commitment to students, while also maintaining fiscal responsibility.
“We have tried to bring a proposal to you tonight that exemplifies our commitment to our beliefs, but also our responsibility about being fiscally responsible and projecting appropriately for the board what is necessary,” Purser said.
The biggest shock to parents and teachers was the recommendation that Academy Heights, a K-5, year-round elementary school, be closed next year in efforts to consolidate the county’s year-round school program at Southern Pines Primary School and Southern Pines Elementary School.
Purser said that the system could save $500,000 a year by closing the K-5 school and sending its students to Southern Pines, where students will be split between the two schools.
Southern Pines Primary serves students in kindergarten through second grade. Southern Pines Elementary serves third grade through fifth grade.
Purser said that the schools would be able to accommodate the 250 students who currently attend Academy Heights.
She added that the Academy Heights facility already needed to be retired, emphasizing that updates to the school’s infrastructure would be too costly for the system and the potential for expansion at the school’s current site is not feasible.
The school, which is located in Taylortown, was built in 1934 to serve the local black community before school integration. It became Pinehurst Elementary School in 1969. Academy Heights opened as a year-round school in 1996.
Purser added that the idea could save money in the program, while maintaining the option of year-round school.
She also recommended the consolidation of the system’s bus routes mainly to save on transportation costs, which have become more volatile with rising fuel prices.
The consolidation would force more staggered school start times around the county, starting younger grades early and older grades later so that buses can drop off at elementary schools and then head back out to collect older students.
Purser was quick to say that buses would not be picking up students earlier, but she did say the new system could keep some students in school later and, in turn, bring them home later. She also said that consolidated routes would not be feasible in more rural areas, where the distance between schools is greater.
The system also faces a loss of 90 positions, 25.5 of which were previously funded by federal stimulus dollars that expire at the end of the 2010-2011 year.
Positions were also eliminated due the revision of the system’s position allotment formulas, which determine how many positions are available at a school, and program cutbacks.
About 28.5 teaching positions could be lost through the revisions, including 4.5 career and technical teachers, 14 positions in grades four through 12 and 10 first-grade teachers.
Teaching positions were cut based on a one-student increase in class sizes.
Eleven teacher assistant positions could also be lost, along with four assistant principal positions, and four instructional support positions, such as media center specialists and guidance counselors.
Three positions at the system's central office will also be cut.
Purser emphasized that though positions will be cut, the system will try to make eliminations through attrition, rather than lay-offs.
Using attrition would mean that the system would not fill positions left vacant by staff members, who have either retired from the system or resigned.
Purser said she could not currently say how significant the rate of attrition could impact those lost positions, but she said that the system was able to make cutbacks in previous years without having to let as many people go with the practice.
Program cutbacks include reductions in middle school athletic programs, the elimination of the High School Graduation project and a reduction in shared costs with Sandhills Community College for the First Step program, which allows high school students to receive college credits, while taking high school courses.
Filling the Gap
Purser’s recommended cuts for the system only account for $5.2 million in the anticipated $8.2 million shortfall.
Purser asked the board to consider using between $3.2 million and $4 million from the system’s General Fund balance to fill in the remainder of the deficit, instead of asking for more money at the expense of taxpayers at the local level.
“I do believe we have dug in deeply,” she said. “We have gone across the county. We have looked at all programs, and we feel very strongly that we have reduced as far as we need to reduce at this time.”
The system is requesting $26,252,072 from the county this year — the same amount allocated to the system last year.
“Our county, our citizens, are also dealing with the impact of these economic times, and we will do as we have for the last two years,” she said.
As board members looked on with long faces, Purser reiterated the system’s commitment to students in the vision of the system’s “Growing to Greatness” model, despite so many cuts.
“We are still going to be doing new things,” she said. “Innovation has got to be at the heart of everything we do.”
She stressed that, as cuts run deep across the system, she and her staff will continue to listen to concerns from the public.
“We do want to hear everybody’s concerns,” she said. “We have listened throughout the process of development, and we will continue to listen. Our commitment is to the children.”
“You’ve given us a lot to consider,” Board Chair-woman Laura Lang said after the presentation.
‘Save Academy Heights’
Parents of Academy Heights students attended the meeting to hear Purser’s budget proposal.
Teachers at the school learned about the proposal Monday afternoon. Families of students were notified Monday night via a “Connect Ed” voice mail from Purser.
Several questioned the motivation behind closing one of the highest performing schools in the county and the state to send students to schools that have lower performance rates according to standardized tests.
On last year’s end-of-grade tests, Academy Heights had 98.4 percent of its students performing at or above grade level in its performance composite.
Southern Pines Elementary had 76.3 percent of students performing at or above grade level. Southern Pines Primary’s performance composite scores are not recorded because the N.C. ABCs program begins that evaluation at the third grade level.
All of the schools met their expected growth requirements for No Child Left Behind’s Adequate Yearly Progress last year.
Academy Heights parent Aaron Butler questioned why the board would approve nonacademic facility updates for other schools during the same meeting that Purser explained that facility updates to Academy Heights would be too costly.
“Why can’t we use some of this maintenance money to bring our school up to code?” he asked. “They made the comment that this money has been allocated for certain things. They chose where it’s going.”
Lisa Hagadorn, a parent of an Academy Heights student, has created a Facebook page called “Save Academy Heights,” which already has 143 followers.
Throughout the meeting, Purser stressed the importance of maintaining an open dialogue with parents and staff throughout the budget process. She plans to hold a meeting for families and staff of Academy Heights at 6 p.m. Thursday at West Pine Elementary School.
Next Monday, the school board will hold public hearings on the proposed budget at 6 p.m. at Carthage Elementary School. The meeting will start with a public hearing addressing general issues concerning the budget.
Additional hearings concerning specific items in the budget will follow the first public hearing.
The Board of Education is scheduled to approve the budget April 4.
Contact Hannah Sharpe at email@example.com.
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