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Judy Grissom column: School system faces tight budget

Spring has arrived and for the school system, that means planning for the next school year. One of the most complex plans is our budget request that goes to the Rowan County Board of Commissioners.
School systems receive operating funds from three sources: federal, state and local funds. Eight percent of our total operating budget comes from federal sources; 69 percent comes from state funds; and 23 percent comes from local sources. Federal and state funds are based on formulas. Local funds are the only funds that allow us to submit a proposal of our needs.
We sent our request for local funds to the commissioners in early April. This year the anticipated state increase in salary for employees (teachers, principals, etc.) is 5 percent. Because many of these employees are paid using local funds, we must provide the same increase to these employees. Other expenses increase each year beyond our control, such as utilities, gas, etc. and must be included in our request.
The mandatory increase for 2008-2009 is approximately $1.35 million. By mandatory, we mean the increases in our local budget over last year are not optional. This includes all required increases, such as salary, benefits, travel, utilities, gas, etc.
Our school system will open the Rowan County Early College on the campus of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College this fall. Although many expenses will be paid from state funds and an implementation grant, certain costs must be covered locally. They include two teaching positions, one office position, local principal supplement and technology equipment and software. The projection of additional costs to open Rowan County Early College is almost $269,000.
In summary, the school system is in need of $1.62 million just to open the new Early College and to maintain what we are doing. This request does not cover any new initiatives that would address 21st century skills or the dropout rate/graduation rate. If the commissioners continue their commitment to fund the school system at state average, our mandatory costs would be covered (unless the state approves a higher raise). At state average funding, the system would see a $1,729,738 increase, leaving us with about $100,000 to provide needed professional development and some technology equipment.
The school system has identified two additional requests that we feel are very important:
1. Increase local certified supplements by $500. Rowan-Salisbury continues to compete with school systems within driving distance for teachers and administrators. Our supplement has not been increased in many years. The longer we wait to address this problem, the larger the gap between our pay for teachers and the pay for teachers in other school systems becomes.
2. Seven technology facilitators. Anyone who attended the Education Summit heard the need to increase technology tools for our students and teachers. Along with additional equipment is the need for personnel to help with training teachers, developing curriculum and troubleshooting technical problems. Seven new technology facilitators would go a long way in meeting this need.
The total cost of these district requests is $1,174,887. Our principals, athletic directors and directors submitted requests at our budget hearings which have not been included.
As you can see, it will take a $2,904,625 increase to meet our mandatory expenses, open Rowan County Early College, and begin to make advances in providing much needed funds for recruiting teachers and improving technology skills.
As of today, we have a fund balance of $4,383,021. The school system’s fund balance is the equivalent of a personal savings account balance. However, it is never good to use fund balance for recurring items (items that will need to be paid every year) because eventually the funds will be gone.
The Local Government Commission recommends that a school system reserve 8 percent of its total operating budget for fund balance, which is close to where we are. If we have to “dip” into the fund balance for operating expenses, there will be even less left for unforeseeable expenditures such as unpredictable fuel costs and services and products affected by those costs. Because of a very tight budget this year, we do not anticipate that the fund balance will increase.
If the school system is not funded at state average, we will then have to find ways to cut about $1.6 million from our existing budget. Because we are efficiently managing our budgets and our organization is heavy with people (largest employer in the county), cutting this amount from our budget would mean that 34 to 35 positions would have to be eliminated.
We trust that the spirit of cooperation, openness and trust that has grown between the Rowan County Board of Commissioners and the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education will continue. We know commissioners are faced with many needs and requests, but we also know that the children in Rowan County deserve the best education possible and that they are our future.
– – –
Dr. Judy S. Grissom is superintendent of Rowan-Salisbury Schools.

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