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HVAC repairs contribute to rising RSS maintenance costs

SALISBURY — Rowan-Salisbury Schools received an extra $500,000 for facilities maintenance in the 2018-19 fiscal year, but the cost of maintaining aging schools is projected to produce expenses that top what’s budgeted.

Chief Financial Officer Carol Herndon made the announcement during Monday’s Board of Education work session as she talked about the upcoming year’s budget, saying, “It’s no surprise that the cost to maintain old and aging facilities is escalating.”

Specific numbers were not immediately available, but Herndon and Assistant Superintendent Anthony Vann said they’re working to understand exactly what’s producing the projected overage.

“It is still a big and concerning issue for us as a district that we are continuing to spend a lot of operating dollars in making our schools ready and able to be open for our students,” Herndon said. “I don’t know what it means for how we might go about budgeting for those dollars next year, but we haven’t seen the trend change this year.”

School board member Dean Hunter responded to the announcement by asking whether items on which maintenance money is being are in fact capital or long-term needs.

“At some point, we’re muddying the waters between the maintenance that’s needed and capital needs,” Hunter said. “I’ve been around long enough to know that we continue to hear, maybe not from our current commissioners, that, ‘All you ever do is ask for money.’”

Hunter said he feels guilty that it’s possible the school system might ask for more maintenance money in the 2019-20 fiscal year.

Asked by board Chairman Josh Wagner, Herndon said the accounting definition for maintenance funds is defined as extending the life of a building. There’s a $5,000 threshold, but it’s subjective, she said.

While he wasn’t able to speak to the specific increase this year, Vann said heating and air-conditioning repairs consume a significant portion of the maintenance budget. At the start of the current budget year, Vann said, the school system spent roughly $300,000 on HVAC repairs across the district.

After Tuesday’s meeting, Vann clarified to the Post that the school system hasn’t already exceeded its maintenance budget but is just projected to do so.

Also during Herndon’s budget discussion, she said the school system would seek to add two social workers and two nurses in each of the next two school years, with an additional cost of about $260,000 per year. The school system would request that funding from county government.

The system also plans to ask the county for an additional $300,000 to place off-duty law enforcement officers in elementary schools. Those officers would be in addition to the school resource officers stationed at middle and high schools.

Much remains unclear about the 2019-20 budget, as the N.C. General Assembly has yet to begin budget discussions in its current session.

Items that could increase expenses in Rowan-Salisbury Schools’ budget include boosts in pay for teachers, principals, teacher assistants or other staff; a retirement rate hike; and jump in health insurance premiums.

Contact Editor Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4248.

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