School board approves business, marketing academy at East Rowan
EAST SPENCER — The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education approved a business and marketing academy Monday as a pilot program at East Rowan High School.
“This is something we’ve been wanting to do for a while,” said Principal Kelly Sparger at the meeting. “We have outstanding teachers who are very passionate about what they do and think they have a real need for that. And our students have expressed as much.”
In his proposal to the board, Sparger said students would be required to complete seven credits in business and marketing courses and two service learning or work-based programs. They also would be required to actively participate in Future Business Leaders of America.
“That gives the children the opportunity to compete and to hone their leadership presentation skills,” Sparger said.
The business and marketing program would give students the chance to earn multiple industry certifications, earn North Carolina community college credit and high school credit at the same time, create an electronic portfolio and participate in field trips and partnerships with colleges and local businesses.
In the 2013-14 school year, the academy would only be open to ninth- and 10th-graders at East Rowan. It would then open to transfer students from other areas of the county the following year.
Currently, school system policy allows only rising ninth-graders to transfer into an academy, meaning that students starting as freshmen at other schools this fall will be left out.
Board members said they would like to consider changing that policy to allow 10th-graders to transfer into academies, as long as they meet the prerequisite course requirements at their home schools.
Existing academies include science and math at Salisbury High School, agriculture at West Rowan, fine arts at Jesse C. Carson and JROTC at South Rowan.
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Also at Monday’s meeting, the school board discussed its 2013-14 budget request but decided not to finalize it until its April 8 workshop.
Chief Financial Officer Tara Trexler said the projected deficit is now $4.8 million, down from earlier estimates of $5 million and $5.2 million.
“We made an adjustment based on the governor’s proposal. He recommended a 1 percent salary increase (for state employees) in his official budget proposal,” Trexler said. “Previously, we had used a 2 percent increase for projected raises.”
To keep its current operations going, the board would have to make up for $1 million in budgetary needs, $1 million in expired federal EduJobs funding, $281,000 in mandatory local budget increases, $88,000 in unemployment insurance adjustments, $2 million in projected state reductions and $1.44 million that the board used last year to balance its budget.
On top of that, school board members and staff have identified more new expenses that raise the total to $5.6 million.
That includes $138,000 to pay half the cost of putting School Resource Officers in all middle schools. Trexler said the system is working with local law enforcement to cover the remaining half.
Other safety-related expenses include a $21,000 utility increase for additional lighting poles and $93,000 to add front office clerical staff to elementary schools with enrollment increases.
Staff also recommends paying $315,000 to retain five of the LINKS (at-risk student intervention) staff members funded by an expiring federal grant, $805,000 in expansion items and $225,000 to make up for a drop in enrollment if the county decides to keep the same per-pupil funding.
A board stipend increase approved by school board members is included as well. Its cost would be $12,000.
Board Member Josh Wagner suggested leaving that out of the budget request if teachers and programs are cut.
To help make up for the school system’s losses and expenses, Trexler said staff members have come up with $1.38 million in recommended budget offsets.
That includes $80,000 for a restructuring in the human resources department and $600,000 in indirect costs from federally-funded programs. The school board has not been charging the maximum amount for those local costs, Trexler said, in order to leave some money within the programs themselves.
Previously, Trexler recommended using up to $500,000 of the fund balance, because the Local Government Commission suggests that boards keep about 8 percent of their budgets in savings. But that isn’t a requirement for school systems, she said, so she agreed to raise her recommended number to $700,000.
That would leaves the system with $2.8 million, or 7.3 percent of its local budget, in accessible savings.
Board Member Chuck Hughes said it might be worthwhile to draw the fund balance down even further.
“It gnaws at me that we would have $2.8 million sitting in the fund balance while we’re having to do away with programs... that are very important or have teachers dismissed,” Hughes said.
Chairman Richard Miller said the board could draw it down more, but he doesn’t think it’s good fiscal management not to have a rainy day fund.
Trexler said the board could choose any, all or none of the following options to balance the budget with existing funds:
• Increase in class size formula by one student at all levels — $1.6 million
• Reduction of instructional supplies — $375,000
• Reduction of media assistants (33) — $973,000
• Reduction of teacher assistants (20) — $600,000
• Consolidation of SCALE and enrichment programs — $350,000
• Reduction of AIG staff (3) — $150,000
• Director budget cuts — $125,000
• Program cuts — $100,000
If the school board decides not to make that amount of cuts, it will have to request an increase in county funding, she said.
Hughes made a motion to request the system’s full needs of $5.6 million before making severe cuts, and L.A. Overcash seconded. But Superintendent Judy Grissom said that doesn’t leave much time to prepare for any cuts that do happen.
“It’s hard to tell somebody in June that you can’t come back in August,” she said.
Board member Susan Cox said that also could make it seem like the school board isn’t willing to make concessions.
All except Hughes agreed to table the vote until the board’s April 8 workshop.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.