School system gets increased funding in proposed budget

Published 12:10 am Thursday, May 21, 2015

By Josh Bergeron

The Rowan-Salisbury School System may have to continue waiting to address its pay scale and fix aging schools.

The county’s budget for the coming year includes bumps in operating and capital expenditures for the Rowan-Salisbury, but not nearly as much as the school board requested.

The school system requested a total of $44.4 million for the 2015-2016 fiscal year. The amount was $10 million or about 30 percent more than the system’s current year budget and would have required a property tax increase across Rowan of 10 cents per $100, according to the county’s budget.

The requested amount for the school system included both operating and capital expenditures.

When County Manager Aaron Church presented his recommended budget this week, it included a $1.32 million or 4 percent total increase in the school system’s budget. Even with the stark difference in the system’s request when compared to his recommendation, Church classified the budget increase as significant. Increased tax revenues made it possible, he said.

“The central theme for this budget is excitement, renewal and growth,” Church wrote in the budget’s executive summary. “For the first time since the great recession, the local sales tax is thriving. Sales tax reached an 8 percent year-to-date increase in April for (fiscal year 2014-2015) despite the budgeted projection of a 1.8 percent increase.”

He continues, projecting more growth in tax revenue for the coming fiscal year.

“Across the country, the economy has soared with the stock market at an all time high,” Church wrote in the summary. “In Rowan county it seems as if a growth spurt is just around the corner.”

As a result of increased tax revenue, Church budgeted a revenue neutral tax rate — meaning that the average taxpayer will pay the same amount in property taxes. The proposed rate, however, is an increase of 1.25 cents per $100 to 66.25 cents. On a $100,000 piece of property, that would be an increase of $12.50 for the year.

The school system, with Church’s proposal, would receive the second largest budget increase in the coming year. General government expenditures are projected to receive the largest increase in dollar amount.

The school system’s budget increase includes an additional $800,000 for its daily operating expenditures and $526,115 for capital expenditures such as paving cracked parking lots and repairing old roofs.

The budget proposed by Church would require the Rowan-Salisbury School Board to sort out the best method of allocating available funding, said Anthony Vann, the school system’s assistant superintendent of operations.

The increase in operating expenditures, Vann said, wouldn’t be enough to cover a 1 percent, across-the-board raise for all employees. The board could, however, vote to give a raise of less than 1 percent. The state’s role in paying teachers complicates matters. If state government mandates a teacher pay increase for the coming year, it lowers the total amount of money available for raises given by the school system, said school board Chairman Josh Wagner.

A majority of teachers in the Salisbury-Rowan School System are funded by the state. A smaller portion of the system’s total teachers are paid for by county funds. If state government mandates an increase across North Carolina, Wagner said the system would have less money available to bring all teachers’ pay — state- and county-funded — up to the state and regional averages.

Picking certain groups to receive raises may not be the right solution, either.

“It’s not as easy as just picking one group or the other,” Wagner said. “I want to see us do as much as we can for as many employees as possible.”

Capital expenditures are a similar story. The school system, with the proposed addition in county funds, would not be able to pay for all needs determined by school system staff to be critical for the upcoming year.

Vann said improving safety — adding security cameras, re-keying buildings and adding front lobbies to some schools — is one idea that’s been talked about frequently by the school board and system officials. Vann also mentioned roofing, paving and improving athletic facilities as needs that will have to be addressed in the future.

“It’ll really be a board decision whether to choose one or the other, but there’s been a huge focus on safety items,” Vann said.

One example of a safety addition to schools would be a front lobby that would prevent visitors from entering directly into the school building, Vann said.

Wagner said roof replacement appears to be the most critical need for the school system. Estimates by Rowan-Salisbury School System staff show millions of dollars needed each year for roof repair until the 2017-2018 fiscal year. The cost of roof replacement drops off sharply in years following 2018, according to school system estimates.

The cost of the most critical paving projects, which includes school driveways and parking lots, is estimated to be nearly $4 million in total.

With money tight and the list of needs adding up, Wagner said he understands the school systems needs will not be fixed overnight.

“Whether you’re asking the school system or any county department, if everybody is being honest, I do wish the county could do more,” Wagner said. “I think that several other school board members would agree.”

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246