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News School board cuts budget by $950K

Interim Superintendent Dr. Jim Duncan makes a point at Tuesday’s school board meeting. From left are school board member Tommy Cabe and Chairman Jim Breedlove.Fate of teachers positions still uncertain.

At the school board meeting Tuesday night in Nantahala, citizens from Macon County filled the room to hear first hand what the future of 31 teacher positions would be for the 2013-2014 school year.

Macon County Schools had initially requested about $9.6 million from county commissioners for the upcoming year, but commissioners were only able to grant $7.1 million. According to North Carolina statute, the state is responsible for funding operational costs such as teacher salaries while the county is responsible for providing educational facilities. But budget cuts at the state level have negatively affected local schools and now officials are scrambling to find funding.

“We’ve proposed a cut of about $914,000 and mentioned that to the commissioners. We have looked at our budget and made cuts where we could,” said Interim Superintendent Dr. Jim Duncan. “We have redone all of it. We took all of the pay raises out of it. We've trimmed software and other things and when we do all of that, we go to the county and say in order for us to have a reasonable school year, to not have to completely lay off 31 teachers in addition to the 11 positions we've already talked about, we're going to need approximately $440,000 more.”

The school board will have a chance to present the request to the county commissioners next Tuesday night at their budget work session in the Macon County courthouse.

“I think they will listen and I think they will do something,” Duncan said.

Despite the possibility of receiving funds and avoiding layoffs, the board of education points to other shortcomings that could lead to increased hardship over the next school year.

“Keep in mind, this doesn't project any fund balance,” he said. “This is not going to be without pain. We're going to have fewer instructional supplies, we're going to have less money to operate our software programs on, less money to operate our athletic programs on, less money to spend on anything really, but if we do our part and do what we need to do, [the commissioners] won't ignore that.”

A fund balance is accumulated revenues minus expenditures. In other words, a fund balance can be used as a safety net if unexpected costs were to arise.

“Any governing body will tell you that it's just good government to have a fund balance to fall back on,” said board attorney John Henning Jr.

The board will also look to persuade the commissioners to pass a resolution to maintain a fund balance for county schools in order to address issues that may arise unexpectedly like pay raises that are passed down from the General Assembly.

“They will pass these things and then tell us to pay for them,” said board chairman Jim Breedlove.

Another reason for concern is the possibility that the state budget that ends up being passed by the General Assembly could call for unfunded mandates. Last year, the budget mandated teacher pay raises. Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget proposes a one percent pay increase while the Senate's budget has a zero proposal for salary increments. The House of Representatives has yet to take up the issue. Historically the state's budget has been passed by July 1.

“Our proposal with the $7.559 million for us to operate next year does not include any expenditure for salary increases or any projection for fund balance, but I think we're going to end the year without having to ask the county for money,” said Duncan. “It's difficult and we've had to make some not so popular decisions, but everybody has to make adjustments.”

The board of education hopes to pass their budget by June 24 with the additional $440,000 requested from the county intact.

“The county is going to have to help us somewhere,” Duncan said as he brought his presentation to a close. “If they don't, if they say there's no more money, no tax increases, nothing, then we're going to have to sit down on the 24th and figure out where this $400,000 will come from. That is going to be severe cuts. It means direct personnel cuts, increasing class sizes, and all of the things that we don't want to go to. It is a lot of money, but we're doing everything we possibly can. We're willing to cut things that have been part of our program for years.”

According to Duncan, with the allowance from the county, cuts will still need to be made in the form of a student services position, at least one county office position, phone supplements that have been given to staff members in the past, and others.

“I'm not happy about having to do any of this, but realistically we have to do these things,” said Duncan. “I don't think we're going to have to cut more than the 11 teacher positions and that's absorbing those positions that were interims.”

In response to the difficult cuts that Duncan made, members of the board offered their praise.

“I just want to tell you to carry on Dr. Duncan,” said board member Gary Shields. “I think you've met with the powers that be and they've given you some hope, so carry on.”

Chairman Jim Breedlove followed suit.

“Let me say that Dr. Duncan has done a wonderful job. If you told me when we started this that you could save us $550,000 I would have said, ‘yeah right,’ but he's managed to do it and made some very hard choices.”

The board closed the meeting to the public when they went into a closed session. As a result of discussions during the session, it was decided that employment would not be granted at that time for one year probationary, lateral entry, or provisional certification candidates. The teachers will be able to reapply for vacancies within their licensure area if the funds do become available after further budgetary action by the county commissioners.


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