School board says budget will reflect its needs
EAST SPENCER — Local school board members agreed Monday that they won’t get the funding they need if they don’t ask for it.
At Monday’s meeting of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education, the board asked staff to recommend an operating budget for 2013-14 that covers the school system’s needs, even if that means asking for more money from county commissioners.
Then, Assistant Superintendent Gene Miller proposed a capital outlay budget of nearly $26.7 million.
Last year, it was just $2.4 million.
“We’ve been told, ‘You don’t ask for things, so how do we know what you need?’” Miller said. “So we’re asking for exactly what we’d like to have this year.”
Miller said most of the requests for building projects have been on the school system’s wish list for years.
Topping the list is $13.5 million for a new Woodleaf Elementary School. Next is $8 million for a central administration building, followed by a $1.2 million estimate for system-wide safety upgrades like camera and intercom systems.
Also near the top of the priority list is $1.5 million for half of the schools’ planned energy savings projects.
Representatives Gray Medinger, Steve Zip, and David Ames from the Energy Systems Group shared information earlier in the meeting about a proposed performance contract.
Over about a year, the contractor would upgrade equipment such as light bulbs, water valves and windows at selected Rowan-Salisbury schools over a period of about a year. As the school system begins saving money on its utility bills, those savings would go toward paying debt service on the project.
If any loss is incurred in the 15-year contract, Energy Systems Group would pay the difference.
In order to approve the financing, the Local Government Commission requires county commissioners to pass a resolution saying they will not decrease the school system’s utilities budget over the life of the contract.
Board members said they weren’t sure that would go over well.
Richard Miller said their relationship with the county commissioners is “not as great as we would like it to be.” He said the county could reduce the school system’s general operating budget, forcing the school board to decide where to cut.
“Hopefully you don’t have someone up there who would sign off on something and then renege just because so-and-so is not in office now,” Medinger said.
Richard Miller replied, “We are living proof of that.”
After county commissioners approved a $6 million central office building in January 2012, the new board voted not to finance the building this past February. Commissioners said they were concerned about contamination at the downtown site
Later in the meeting Monday, Gene Miller said he doesn’t think the contract is a good deal for the school board anyway - unless it’s unable to get the money to do the work itself. With Energy Systems Group, the board would end up paying $5 million in potential savings to do $3.3 million worth of projects. Another $1.6 million would go toward various fees and financing, he said.
Gene Miller said he proposes splitting the projects into two years, with a $1.6 million cost each year. That way, if the commissioners agree to fund it, the school system can keep all of the energy savings.
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Chief Financial Officer Tara Trexler said the school system’s projected budget deficit is down from $5.2 million to $5 million, because the board passed a 180-day academic calendar instead of a costlier 185-day version.
But the system is still losing an estimated $2 million in state funding, $1 million in federal EduJobs money and $481,000 in required salary and benefit increases. More federal cuts could be coming, too.
To balance last year’s budget, the school system used a total appropriation of $1.4 million from its fund balance.
“I do feel comfortable recommending that we appropriate up to $500,000 out of our fund balance this year,” Trexler said.
If it uses any more than that, the system would fall below the Local Government Commission’s recommendation that the fund balance be at least 8 percent of its local budget.
Trexler once again presented a list of potential cuts, including athletic supplements, certified teacher supplements, media assistants, art and music staff and AIG staff.
Board Member Kay Wright Norman said she does not want to cut teacher supplements.
“That’s just an insult,” she said.
Susan Cox agreed, adding, “We have a hard enough time getting teachers as it is.”
Chuck Hughes asked if it would be worse or better than losing 32 teachers. That’s what would happen if the school board increased its class size formula by one student to save $1.6 million.
“I think those are the worst of the worst things we could do,” Norman said.
After some discussion, the board decided to ask staff members to make recommendations at its March 25 regular meeting.
“The county commissioners won’t be happy with us if we ask for more money, but I don’t care,” Hughes said, adding that any waste found should be cut.
Chairman Richard Miller and other board members agreed, instructing Trexler to include any cuts that she would recommend in the system’s proposed budget. Then, it can request an increase to cover the rest.
Board members said they also would like copies of a draft budget so they can make their own recommendations before the next meeting.
Board Member Josh Wagner was absent from the meeting.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.