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School board gets details on budget cuts

By Maggie Blackwell
mblackwell@salisburypost
School Board members heard details about a stringent budget for Rowan-Salisbury schools Monday night with officials saying they have tried to protect classroom instruction although “every school has given up something.”
Since February, Superintendent Dr. Judy Grissom and her team have been anxiously awaiting a final budget from the state. Without a budget, the plans for school year 2009-2010 have been in a vacuum.
Now that they have definition, their work is cut out for them.
The final budget passed by the N.C. General Assembly last week mandated many cuts as well as an overall “flexible” budget cut of $3.15 million. The flexible cuts present the larger challenge to the school system. They may be taken from any budget line items, except those protected by general statute.
“While it may go unnoticed by most parents, students and teachers, we have made many more changes in order to accomplish our budget reductions while protecting the classroom,” Chief Financial Officer Tara Trexler said. “From larger items like school resource officers at $300,000, down to smaller items like $40 publications, we have taken every step possible to protect our classrooms.”
Grissom discussed the level of the cuts with her school board.
“At every grade level, every school has given up something. Staff in our central office slashed their budgets by as much as 25 percent, to try and protect the classroom. Above all, our goal is to try and protect our classroom. We have worked as a team. I am proud of everyone for their hard work.”
One move that does affect the classroom is cutting third-grade assistants, so that each elementary school has only one. Each principal and School Improvement Team is to decide how to compensate for the cuts within their own schools. They may pull the media assistant or the reading coaches to support third grade classes. Their plans are due to the central office by October 1.
Other reductions include:
– Cutting out middle school Spanish.
– Cutting middle school Family & Consumer Science.
– Eliminating some positions held by schools whose enrollments were down. Cutting the positions equalized ratios and made the schools more consistent across the board.
– Cutting 14 curriculum coach positions, 10 in elementary and middle school; four in high school.
– Cutting one elementary art, one elementary music, and one elementary PE teaching positions due to lower enrollments at schools.
– Cutting middle school resource officers (the Salisbury Police Department recently won a grant to fund three of these positions).
– Cutting four assistant principal positions.
– Cutting four attendance counselor positions.
– Cutting some part-time central office clerks, and scaled hours back for a construction manager and assistant.
– Decreasing the months of employment for instructional support positions in the central office.
– Eliminating the seasonal insurance support position at the central office.
– Removing the tuition reimbursement program for teachers.
– Eliminating overtime hours for bus drivers, assistants and custodians by rearranging some assignments.
– Reducing 10 clerical positions.
– Eliminating two part-time guidance counselors.
– Utilizing summertime energy savings.
– Eliminating a technology support specialist position.
– Doing away with a beginning teacher mentor position.
– Eliminating food at meetings; encouraging staff to seek sponsors for food if necessary.
– Converting some newsletters to electronic formats only.
– Canceling under-read publications.
– Scaling back on underused computer instruction programs.
In addition, Trexler asked that several monthly meetings be held electronically rather than in person. Benefits from this move extend beyond the budget. It saves gas, keeps participants on campus and eliminates travel time.
Teachers seeking National Board Certification this year will continue to be compensated for their application fee of $2,400. Future applicants, however, may borrow the fee from the school system. They will have up to three years to repay it. The net effect for teachers is still positive if they attain the certification, as it increases their salary by 12 percent, and significantly affects their retirement.
There will be no salary increases for any positions, including teachers and principals, but longevity pay will be issued when it is earned. There will be no ABC bonuses.
School board member Kay Wright Norman said she has observed the tough situation facing the Mecklenburg school system. “I hope the people in our community, staff, and teachers recognize what a good place we are in, considering,” she said.
Overall, the budget for Rowan-Salisbury Schools stands at about 90 percent of last year’s figure. The board will receive a formal package for this budget and vote to adopt it at the Aug. 24 meeting.
The overall cuts for the RSS system, mandated by the state aside from the flexible cuts of $3.15 million, include:
– Total elimination of non-instructional support funding. This includes salaries for custodians, clerical staff, and substitute teachers. Federal stabilization dollars will pay for these salaries, at a total of $5.65 million.
– State funding for the central office is cut by 14 percent, or about $127,000.
– School technology funds are cut by 90 percent, for the next two years.
– All staff development, or training, is cut for two years, at about $140,000.
– All funding for improving student accountability is cut. This includes all reading assistants for grades 3 through 5, and comes to $600,000. The system plans to save these position by paying for them out of federal funds.
– Elimination of state-funded middle school literacy coaches, for a total of three positions. Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Delores Morris said these people have been placed as classroom teachers.
– Teacher mentoring is cut by 17 percent, or about $26,000. With fewer new teachers anticipated this year, this may not be too significant a cut.
– Funding for Limited English Proficiency is cut by 2.5 percent, or about $26,000. Administrators feel all services can be delivered despite the cut.
– Transportation funding is cut by about 3.9 percent, or about $165,000. The state anticipated that lower fuel costs would negate this cut. Trexler noted that the trend for fuel prices seems to be going up at this time, so the effect is not clear at this time.
The state mandated a delay in adopting new textbooks for the next few years.
In other business, the school board approved Darrell McDowell as the new principal for North Rowan High School.

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