School Budget Plan Avoids Staff Cuts
Moore County educators will not have to face the possibility of job cuts in the coming year, School Superintendent Aaron Spence says.
Stressing that no staff positions would be cut in his proposed budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, Spence revealed a recommended budget of $95.8 million to the Moore County Board of Education on Monday. He suggested that the board use money from the school system’s general fund balance to cover an additional $900,000 budget cut the state has mandated.
The school system expects to receive $62.3 million from the state, $6 million in federal funding, and $25.5 million in local funding.
“The staff will want to know that we are not cutting positions,” he said to board members and an audience of school personnel and parents. “We are using the fund balance monies to offset costs. We tried to budget for a worst-case scenario, but we are pretty confident in these numbers.”
The school system has cut 176 positions during the past three years. It closed Academy Heights Elemen-tary School last June as a cost-saving measure to help absorb an $8.2 million deficit. The system also consolidated its bus routes, reducing the fleet from 140 in 2011 to 119 buses.
Spence credited the board with making “courageous decisions” regarding the budget.
“Last year the board took a proactive stance and tapped into the fund balance this year, as they will do for FY 2012-13 as well,” he said. “We are in a secure financial position for the 2012-2013 budget because last year the board voted to make significant cuts in order to reduce costs. I sincerely congratulate the board for the work they’ve done.”
This school year, the system had to reduce its budget by $3.4 million to accommodate state funding shortfalls. This year, the system is expected to reduce its budget by $4.3 million.
The recommendation does not ask the Moore County Board of Commissioners for an increased local funding allocation.
“We are trying to be respectful of the county’s position, and are requesting level funding for this budget,” Spence said.
A total of $26,252,072 in county funds is requested. That includes money for capital improvements.
Using the theme “The success of every child is our priority,” Spence said the budget was “driven by a strategic plan.” He revealed a three-part focus that included the creation of a “data warehouse” that would give teachers and the parents of individual students online access to their children’s progress.
“The warehouse is a giant database in which the parent can track his or her children’s testing history, benchmark scores, and other important information in order to build a picture of a student’s progress,” Spence said. “It is a way of closing the achievement gap, and we’ve got to put this into place.”
Spence said that combining different grade levels to save on costs must be discontinued.
“We can’t ask our teachers to learn two separate curricula on top of a new assessment system,” he said. “It is too much to expect because the instructors are already busy.”
Literacy and the need for teacher assistants in kindergarten and first-grade classrooms was another priority Spence stressed.
“We can’t close achievement gaps without a focus on literacy, so we need to concentrate on how to teach literacy in the primary years,” Spence said. “Teacher assistants are needed in all kindergarten and first grade classes, and we’ve got to have additional support in these age groups. My priority is that we look at state allotment funds for TAs to ensure that we have these in place.”
In a proposal to ensure that students are “future ready,” Spence used the example of his children to encourage using technology in the classroom.
“My 2-year-old son knows the alphabet, shapes, colors, and is learning Spanish, because there’s an app for that,” he said to laughter from the audience. “My 11-year-old daughter asked me why all students don’t have an iPad on which to study, since a good amount of her learning is through technology. I thought that was a good question, and I asked her how many times she uses the computer at school on a given day. She said ‘one time.’ In the year 2012, that’s not enough.”
Spence said he wasn’t advocating “computers for computers’ sake,” but because this was “how children learn.”
“Technology engages students, and students learn when they are engaged,” he said.
“The infrastructure is there to put technological learning tools into students’ hands. It’s not inside this budget, but we need to decide how to proceed on this issue as a community.”
Board member Dr. Lorna Clack said she enjoyed the superintendent’s “excellent presentation.”
“It’s obvious he has studied our needs,” she said. “He has listened to the board, to the principals, and to the people, and he has diagnosed the problems that need to be adressed in order to make a difference in the quality of education of our students. I couldn’t be happier with his recommendations.”
Clack said the issues of teacher assistants in kindergarten and first grade classrooms and the need to alter combination classes were two items that she was eager to address.
“I’ve taught combination classrooms, and I can tell you that it can be extremely difficult for the instructor to teach two separate curricula,” she said. “I am very pleased that he is going to try to solve this problem.”
Spence said that he may consider recommending that the board change policies enacted as cost-saving measures this year, such as the adjusted school start times. But he said he would not recommend a policy change that would have a negative impact on the budget by incurring additional costs.
He also emphasized that he intends to work within the budget to pursue new initiatives in the coming year that will attempt to close the student achievement gap and improve literacy at all grade levels.
The board will hold a public hearing on the FY 2012-2013 budget March 19, and is scheduled to approve the budget at its April 2 meeting.
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