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Rowan-Salisbury school board budget: State and federal funds come with strings attached

SALISBURY — The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education took some time Friday morning to get a good look at its budget for the year.

New Chief Financial Officer Carol Herndon walked the board through past budgets and expenditures, as well as the 2017-18 budget. Typically, Herndon pointed out, the amount the district budgets to spend comes in under what it actually receives.

“Historically, we have not spent what we budgeted to spend,” she said.

School systems receive money and budget alterations from state and federal sources throughout the school year, which can make it “challenging” to ensure that every penny received is a penny spent.

“If you end the year within 5 percent of that, that’s pretty good,” Superintendent Lynn Moody explained. “What you don’t want to do is end up in the red. … You can’t exceed budget. … It’s always going to be over. There’s always going to be variance. There’s no way you can budget $170 million and get it on the dime.”

Currently, the Rowan-Salisbury school system has a $190.9 million budget and has planned $188.9 million in expenditures. Most of that funding — $114 million — comes from the state and has strings attached.

“We try to spend federal first, and if we can’t we try to spend state and use local as the last resort,” Moody said.

State and federal funding can be spent only in certain amounts and certain areas and often requires approval before its spent. Moody said sometimes the district will ask for permission to use federal money, but it may take up to six months to hear back — and even then, that answer could be no.

“Well, the school year’s almost over,” she said.

Sometimes state and federal alterations mean the district has to return money. That means, Herndon said, that the district tends to be very conservative in its budget estimations.

“We have tried to build a very tight budget,” she said.

Herndon said that since she came on board in August, she’s examined records carefully and is “comfortable and confident” that the district’s budget has not been padded.

Board member Dean Hunter wanted to know if any of the leftover funds could be put toward things like capital needs. The board and administrators have often noted that there are so many needs and not enough money. Could the unspent funds be used to alleviate that?

“It gets really sticky around there,” Herndon said.

State and federal funding, at least, comes with a lot of strings attached. Moody said it needs to be made “crystal clear” to the community that the funding is tied up in rules and expectations.

Herndon and Moody said the district gets state and federal budget readjustment at least every two weeks — sometimes every week.

“That’s why you don’t want to build your budget too tight,” Moody said.

The board spent some time discussing potential projects it would still be able to fund in the 2017-18 year. Options included hiring full-time substitute teachers and expanding the restorative classroom program.

“We know we have the need — we have the waiting list and we have the need for it,” Moody said of the restorative classroom program.

It also included bonuses for community principals and principals of at-risk schools.

“These are ways that we can be a little bit competitive with the bonuses that the state did that hurt us instead of help us,” Moody said, referring to a state budget resolution that awards principal bonuses based on school size and performance.

The board also talked about possible alternates for West Rowan Elementary School, including four additional classrooms.

After further discussion, the board agreed to discuss some of the issues further at its Monday business meeting.

The board will meet at 4 p.m. Monday at the Wallace Educational Forum board room, 500 N. Main St. The meeting will begin with a closed session. Celebrations will be at 5 p.m. and public comment at 6 p.m.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264. 

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