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News Education School board requests $9.6 million from county

Without making any cuts to the school's budget and taking into account multiple factors — including a two percent salary raise for teachers, a 9.5 percent increase in utility costs, and a reduction in board revenue due to federal cuts — the Macon County Board of Education will need $9,567,455 from county commissioners for the 2013-14 school year; an increase of $2,656,455 from this school year.

During its April meeting, members of the Board of Education unanimously agreed to send the preliminary budget request of $9,567,455 to county commissioners for consideration.

Without making any cuts to the school's budget and taking into account multiple factors — including a two percent salary raise for teachers, a 9.5 percent increase in utility costs, and a reduction in board revenue due to federal cuts — the Macon County Board of Education will need $9,567,455 from county commissioners for the 2013-14 school year; an increase of $2,656,455 from this school year.

During its April meeting, members of the Board of Education unanimously agreed to send the preliminary budget request of $9,567,455 to county commissioners for consideration.

The preliminary proposed budget factors in a two percent increase for teachers. While the majority of teachers are paid out of state funds, due to the annual state mandated reversion, Macon County's local budget covers the cost of 54 teachers. Gov. Pat McCrory has proposed a one percent increase in teaching salaries for state employees. The county would be responsible for covering the one percent raise for the 54 teachers paid out of local funds. The other half of the two percent is factored in based on inevitable salary bumps on the required salary schedule which begins to take effect as teachers meet certain career milestones such as moving from 15 years of employment to 16 years.

The budget is also inflated due to a required six percent insurance benefit increase and a five-tenths percent retirement increase for employees that will have to be paid for out of local funds for the 54 teachers on the county's payroll.

The school system is anticipating a 9.5 increase in utility costs which covers power, water/sewer, phone, garbage, fuel oil, natural gas and pest control. According to interim Superintendent Dr. Jim Duncan, the 9.5 increase in the budget is to cover a rate increase coming from Duke Energy and the increase in fuel cost in the event of a harsh winter. The school system is looking at having to spend $215,000 for fuel oil next year. During the 2012-13 year, the district only spent about $75,000 because the tanks had been topped off in previous years, and because the full cost to fill the tanks varies based on usage during winter months, Duncan anticipates $215,000 to fill the tanks back up for next year.

Dr. Duncan also informed the county of an increase in substitute pay, for which the school system receives no state funds. This year, the district budgeted $150,000 but to date has already spent $160,000, calling for an increase in the substitute line item of $50,000.

“When you hire younger teachers because it does not cost as much as tenured teachers you run into things such as them leaving on FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) to start families, and you have to have substitutes to cover that,” said Duncan. “We currently have 28 employees out on FMLA leave and we have to pay $100 a day for substitutes to cover those classrooms.”

About $687,000 of the extra money needed from the county for next year is due to reduced revenue from federal and other cuts that will have to be picked up on the local level.

Despite having to ask for more money in the upcoming budget, Dr. Duncan informed commissioners that the district has diligently worked to reduce operational costs.

“Since the year began, we have cut all incoming staff to interim positions, which means minimum salaries with no benefits,” he said. “We have reduced our costs of school software for computers, cut off purchase orders from local funds in February, hired no replacements for teacher assistants, hired no substitutes for custodians, or office personnel. We have reduced the superintendent office expense by $37,000 and cut staff development and initiated energy savings measures.”

While the first preliminary proposed budget to the county is based on no cuts to the districts current operations, the school system did inform commissioners that even if they were able to cut $900,000 based on proposed cuts presented earlier in the budget planning process, the school system would still need an additional $1,069,773 more than previous years from the county.

“The thing that scares me is that we won't be able to make those same cuts next year,” said incoming Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin. “So if we make all the cuts possible without directly affecting classroom education, next year we will have to start sending people home just to continue to operate.”

School board members expressed their concerns to commissioners that if the county is not able to fund the school system, students could suffer. “Education in Macon County could drastically, drastically change, and not for the better,” said board member Stephanie McCall.

Commissioner Ron Haven informed his fellow commissioners that education should be a priority for the county. “I don't want to cut anything out of the school budget,” said Haven. “I could cut the fat out of about any other department in the county, but not education.”

School board chairman Jim Breedlove agreed with Haven and voiced his frustration with being forced to fill a void created on the state level. “We should not be forced to ask our county commissioners to stand up and pick up the state's responsibility. It is not fair,” said Breedlove.

In addition to the request of $9,567,455 for general operational costs for the school system, the Board of Education also presented the county with a request of $297,035 for capital outlay need throughout the district. The 2013-14 capital outlay request is about $50,000 more than what the Board of Education has asked of the county in past years. The capital outlay request include items such at $40,000 for district wide security measures, $30,000 for window replacements at Franklin High School, and $75,000 for HVAC upgrade to the 6th grade wing at Macon Middle School.

The county will take the school system's request under consideration and will either fully approve the preliminary budget, or give the school board a dollar amount, at which point the school system will have to make budget cuts in order to stay within the given amount. The school system must present a final balanced budget to the county no later than May 15.





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published: 10/18/2013
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