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School system facing at least a $2 million budget deficit

The chief financial officer for the Rowan-Salisbury School System told Board of Education members Monday the district will face at least a $2 million deficit going into the 2013-14 budget year.

“There will be a void left by the expiration of $1 million in (federal) EduJobs money,” Tara Trexler said. “And about $1 million of our fund balance was used to balance the budget this year.”

That $2 million figure could rise depending on allocations from the state and county government, Trexler said.

The district received about $108.6 million from the state this year, equating to 62 percent of its total funding.

Trexler said the growth of discretionary cuts on the state level could add to the shortfall.

A decade ago those cuts, which allow districts the flexibility to decide which programs and positions to fund, were about $605,000. They reached $5.9 million last year and about $4.8 million this year.

“It’s an easy way for legislators to balance the (state) budget,” Trexler said. “The only up side is systems are able to tweak it to meet individual needs.”

Trexler said the transportation costs for five additional school days as the state requires 185 instead of 180 instructional days will be a costly measure for the district next year unless the state steps in to fund the mandate.

About $31.8 million of the district’s funds this year came through an appropriation from the Rowan County Board of Commissioners. That’s down by about $1 million from several years ago.

County Manager Gary Page had proposed cutting nearly $481,000, due to a projected enrollment decline of 309 students, but the board opted to hold funding steady.

“Even locally when it looks like you get the same amount, it’s really not because there are mandates that come from the state that have to come out of the local budget,” Superintendent Dr. Judy Grissom said. “Even though it might look the same … that’s a little misleading.”

The school board asked the county for an additional $1.25 million that would reinstate the $1 million the cut during fiscal year 2011-12 and add $250,000 to cover benefit increases mandated by the state, but that measure was not approved.

The district’s fund balance is down to about $3.5 million, representing 9 percent of the district’s current expense budget.

“We’re right there close to the 8 percent recommendation given by the Local Government Commission,” she said.

The district tapped the fund balance this year to fill a budget gap and provide employees with a one-time 1 percent pay hike.

Trexler shared a fund balance comparison from other school systems of similar size with the board Monday. Rowan-Salisbury has an enrollment of about 20,100 students.

Alamance-Burlington, which has an enrollment of more than 22,400 students, has more than $14.5 million available.

Cabarrus County, with an enrollment of close to 30,000 students, has a fund balance of $6.8 million.

Catawba County has about $3.3 million in reserves. The district has an enrollment of more than 17,000 students.

The fund balance for Davidson County, which has more than 20,200 students, is at about $1.5 million.

Trexler noted some of the figures were from the 2011-12 fiscal year, while others were from 2010-11.

School board members Chuck Hughes pointed out that school districts aren’t required to keep a fund balance.

Trexler confirmed his statement.

“Not legally,” she said. “But I won’t sleep well at night if y’all don’t allow me to have any in reserves.”

Hughes said he agrees they shouldn’t completely deplete the fund balance.

Trexler said the district has made $24 million in cuts, including 200 positions, throughout the past four years.

“That doesn’t mean we have sent 200 warm bodies home, but that does mean there are less people to serve our students,” she said.

The bulk of the cuts came during 2009-10, when 137 positions were nixed including 52 elementary teacher assistants, five central office jobs, four assistant principals, 14 curriculum coaches, seven middle school Spanish teachers, six middle school career and technical education teachers and seven middle school resource officers.

Trexler said that district eliminated overtime assignments that year.

“We have a lot of combination employees that are teacher assistants and bus drivers, now if they spent seven and a half hours in the classroom they can only spent half an hour on the bus,” she said. “It saved us a lot of money that has helped with cuts.

“We still pay overtime if it happens to occur, we just don’t assign it.”

Trexler said the district’s tuition reimbursement program and staff development budget have been completely eliminated. School remediation and summer school has been scaled back.

This academic year, the district cut 40 positions, including the remainder of the curriculum coaches and 20 reading assistants.

The background Trexler presented to the board Monday will be used during the next personnel and finance subcommittee meeting held Feb. 5.

Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.

Twitter: twitter.com/posteducation

Facebook: facebook.com/Sarah.SalisburyPost

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