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Wednesday, 03 December 2008 13:19

Schools struggle with state budget recall

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By Josh Mitchell & Julia Merchant • Staff Writers

The downturn in the economy is forcing schools to send back some of their state money.

The state has asked local school systems to send back $39 per student, or 0.75 percent of their budgets. Statewide, a total of $117 million is being recalled from public school budgets.

In Western North Carolina, most school leaders are still trying to figure out where that money will come from. School districts must report to the state by Dec. 19 how they plan on covering the reversions, so those that don’t know yet will have to figure it out soon.

Here’s how each is dealing with the funding cut so far.

Haywood County

Bill Nolte, assistant superintendent of the Haywood County school system, said the cut in funds will put the school in a financial pinch. He hopes to make the cuts in administration.

“We’re going out of our way to make the most cuts at the district office level to impact classrooms and programs as little as possible,” said Nolte.

But exactly what will be cut yet hasn’t been decided.

Macon County

Macon County School District will cover its reversion by sending back state money that was being used to pay two principals’ salaries.

The district’s finance director, Betty Waldroop, said the salaries will now have to be covered with local funds set aside for staff development and instructional supplies.

She said instructional supplies such as paper, pens and pencils might be cut as well as expenses for staff development, such as sending teachers to training.

However, Waldroop said the staff development and instructional supply expenses could possibly be covered with “other pots of money.”

She said she doesn’t think the reversion is going to have that big of an effect on the school district.

Swain County

Swain County hasn’t decided where it will come up with the money yet either, according to Steve Claxton, community schools coordinator.

“We are trying to look at programs and find what is possible that can be cut. The main thing they don’t want to do is anything that will affect the students,” Claxton said.

Swain is working at a disadvantage compared to other counties: the amount of funding it gets from the county versus the state is extremely small.

“Our local funding is one of the lowest in the state,” Claxton said.

A committee of school officials and department heads met Monday afternoon to tackle the problem, but haven’t finalized anything. A recommendation will be ready by next Monday (Dec. 8) to present to the school board at its meeting.

Jackson County

Jackson County Superintendent Sue Nations said she does not yet know what they will cut.

“We’ve got to come up with the money somewhere,” she said.

Nations said the district probably can’t cover it out of instructional supplies because those funds have most likely been spent already. She said some of the reversion could possibly be covered with textbook money.

She said Jackson County will consider doing what Macon County did by picking up some of its salaries with local funds rather than the state paying for them.

“Most of our budget is personnel,” she said.

She said she hopes layoffs are not necessary.

However, she said the national economic conditions are projected to get worse. If staff reductions are necessary, she hopes it can be done through “natural attrition,” for instance, someone retiring and the job remaining unfilled. She expects budget issues will be worse next year.

Community colleges

Additionally, Haywood Community College and Southwestern Community College must send back 3 percent of their budget.

SCC is an advantagous position — it had already set aside money for the eventuality of a state budget cut, according to Janet Burnette, vice president for administrative services.

The school was anticipating the reversion after being warned by the N.C. Community College System Office in Raleigh.

“They advised us early we might want to set aside funds for a possible reversion,” she said.

As a result of the reversion she said the school has had to hold back on funding two counselor positions and staff development such as training and workshops.

Likewise, Haywood Community College officials say they were prepared for the state cuts, according to Karen Denny, the college’s executive director of business operations. As a result, the college had budgeted enough money to meet all funding requests. However, there’s little extra money available for things like faculty salaries, instructional supplies or faculty travel and professional development.

Not so fast

The state is asking every school system to cut costs by $39 per student to help make up for a state budget shortfall. Here’s what that means for each county.

Haywood $313,772

Macon $174,039

Jackson $148,172

Swain $75,000

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