School board to ask for $4.6M budget increase
EAST SPENCER — The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education agreed Monday to ask county commissioners for a $4.6 million budget increase in 2013-14.
The board is scheduled to present its proposed budget to the county on May 6 at 3 p.m.
Going into this year’s budgeting process, the Rowan-Salisbury School System was facing an estimated $4.8 million deficit created by expired federal EduJobs funding, expected state cuts, mandatory local budget increases and money that the board took from its fund balance last year.
That total goes up to $5.6 million when new expenses are added. That includes School Resource Officers for all middle schools, more front office clerical staff at elementary schools and LINKS (at-risk-student intervention) staff members funded by an expiring federal grant.
At the school board’s March 25 meeting, Chuck Hughes made a motion to ask for a $5.6 million increase to cover all of its expenses, and L.A. Overcash seconded.
But the motion was tabled until Monday’s meeting, when Hughes said he may have been short-sighted. He said he could see the point, made by board member Susan Cox, that it might seem like the school board isn’t willing to make concessions.
Overcash, Jean Kennedy and Kay Wright Norman voted in favor of asking for the full amount, but the board rejected it in a 4-3 decision.
Hughes said that in discussions with a county commissioner, he was told that the board would get the same amount per pupil as last year – $1,587. According to Chief Financial Officer Tara Trexler, that would mean a $225,000 decrease to go along with a drop in enrollment.
“I think it’s going to be a battle to get anything more than that, so I think we should cut the budget down to meet that,” Hughes said.
Chairman Richard Miller said he appreciates the information, but he doesn’t think it’s appropriate for another board member to have discussions with commissioners that he as chairman could not.
Miller said county commissioners suggested that the two boards talk about per pupil funding, but when he reached out to set up a meeting, he was “rebuffed.” In a letter, County Commissioner Chairman Jim Sides said he did not feel such a meeting was warranted at this time, and commissioners would determine the level of funding.
“I believe your board chair is being disrespected and not being treated to proper protocol,” Miller said, adding that he is not judging Hughes for his behavior.
Hughes said Miller could have approached commissioners as an individual taxpayer, not as chairman of the board, just like Hughes did.
“I suspect if you did, you would’ve been invited to talk,” he said.
After the meeting, he said he was asking Sides about general budget issues when the commissioner gave his opinion about per pupil funding. Hughes said Sides stressed that the Board of Commissioners has not made its decision yet.
During the budget discussion, Josh Wagner moved to take out a $12,000 stipend increase for board members, which was approved by the board in January.
“I understand that an additional $12,000 is not a lot of money, but looking at the budget shortfalls, I think that would be a nice gesture on our part,” Wagner said.
The board voted 5-2 to remove the pay raise, with Norman and Miller voting to keep it.
Hughes said he wanted take an additional $500,000 from the fund balance, for a total of $1.2 million, but his motion failed.
Miller then moved to take an additional $300,000 for a round $1 million figure, which passed unanimously. The school system’s savings would shrink to about $2.5 million.
Finally, Overcash moved to ask for the remaining $4.6 million in uncovered expenses as an increase from county commissioners. The budget request was approved unanimously.
Trexler had recommended saving $680,000 by restructuring the human resources department and charging the maximum amount to cover indirect costs from federally-funded programs.
Staff also identified possible cuts that would reduce instructional supplies, teacher assistants and media assistants. Also offered was an increase in the class size formula, which would cut teachers.
But board members said they wanted to set a budget that meets the school system’s needs. Trexler has said the board has already made $24 million in cuts over the past four years.
“I think we shortchange ourselves when we don’t ask for what we need,” Norman said. “I think our goal should be what is best for… the children of this community and their education.”
The board also voted 4-3 to approve a proposed capital outlay budget of nearly $26.7 million.
That’s a big increase from just $2.4 million last year.
At earlier meetings, Assistant Superintendent Gene Miller said the board is following advice from commissioners by asking for exactly what it needs.
A new Woodleaf Elementary School costing $13.5 million is at the top of the list. Gene Miller said that like most of the building project requests, this has been a recurring need for years.
The second building expense listed is $8 million for a central administration office. County commissioners approved a $6 million central office building in January 2012, but a new board voted not to finance the building this past February.
The city of Salisbury has agreed to look at borrowing the money on behalf of the school system. An $8 million building would be large enough to fully consolidate staff from the system’s five current offices.
Hughes, Wagner and Cox voted to remove the central office item from the budget, but the motion failed 4-3. The same three board members dissented in the final vote.
Also near the top of the capital budget is $1.2 million for system-wide safety upgrades like camera and intercom systems, along with $1.5 million for half of the schools’ planned energy savings projects. The other half would be performed in the next year.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.