Haywood Schools at a crossroads

Update: Massive cuts on the way for Haywood schools

fr centralNews that a beloved elementary school might close next year grabbed headlines last week, but shuttering Central Elementary School in Waynesville won’t be enough to make up for the $2.4 million budget shortfall Haywood County Schools is facing next school year.

REPORT: Feasibility study for the closure of Central Elementary by Haywood County Schools

Closing Central would save only about $500,000 per year, and because it’s not yet a done deal, district leaders had to come up with an alternate plan to cut the full amount in the event that Central remains open. The list of $2.3 million in cuts — the district would still have a bit of shortfall to make up — which the school board voted to give preliminary approval last week, would slash everything from teaching positions to athletic coaches to administrators’ cell phone supplements. 

“No one wanted to do this, but in order to maintain Haywood County Schools, we have to do it,” said Superintendent Anne Garrett, later adding, “We didn’t hit just one area. We made it as broad as we could without damaging any program permanently.”

 

A decrease in teachers

Undeniably the most troubling cut, however, is the first one — the school system will get rid of 22 classroom teaching positions, saving $1.07 million. It’s an upsetting but unavoidable plan, administrators say. Personnel costs account for more than 60 percent of the school system’s budget in any given year, so it’s hard to significantly cut expenses without touching teachers. 

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Garrett hopes nobody will actually be laid off to achieve the reduction, as the school system typically expects 45 to 60 people to retire or otherwise leave the classroom each year. But class sizes — especially for grades four and up, which have no state-mandated cap — will go up, and there’s a potential for some course offerings to disappear, though district leaders vow to prevent that outcome if at all possible. 

Specific decision about which positions stay and which go won’t come out until March, when the district makes its preliminary calculations for projected enrollment. 

According to Chuck Francis, chairman of the school board, there’s a “very good possibility” that some low-enrollment high school courses might be pulled. Associate Superintendent Bill Nolte, meanwhile, said that the school system “doesn’t anticipate the loss of any offerings.” 

But until March allotment numbers come out, those decisions will remain hypothetical. 

The school board’s ultimate decision about Central Elementary will also play a part in the final staffing decision. If the school board decides to go through with the closure, it may be able to restore some of the teaching positions that otherwise would be cut. But not necessarily. 

It’s an election year, making it likely that the Legislature will decide to give teachers a raise, Nolte said. And while it’s a good thing for teachers to get paid more for their work, raises are a double-edged sword when it comes to budgeting. The state pays for a certain number of positions, but some teachers are paid with local dollars, and so a state raise means that increased salaries for locally paid teachers have to come out of the funding pot the county provides. If the state decrees a 5 percent raise, Nolte said, that would wipe out the $500,000 to be saved annually by closing Central. 

“Very little on this list will change if Central closes,” he predicted. 

Though teaching positions are the largest line-item budget cut recommended, staff and students will have to deal with myriad other reductions, as well. 

Remediation services for students struggling with schoolwork in the middle and high schools will be cut by 40 percent, meaning the school administrators who decide how to spend that money will have some tough calls to make. 

If the cuts are approved, remediation funding in grades six to 12 will fall from $272,000 to $162,000. 

“It will mean, maybe, more students in a tutorial group. Instead of having three you might have six or seven,” Nolte said. “Or fewer days (of tutoring) a week.”

Local funding for exceptional children — kids with special needs — will suffer a 77 percent blow, with funding falling from $130,993 to $29,993. Garrett said the program will still receive substantial federal funding, with almost $200,000 that flows to it each year from Medicaid remaining intact.

The school system will also look at ways to move funding sources around to save money. For instance, the school system has a Title 1 director who is partially paid with federal funds aimed at providing extra instructional help for children in poverty. But if the school system wants to task that person with any duties not directly tied to the paramenters of federal funding, they have to pay for part of the salary with local dollars. Next year, the school system plans to decrease the percentage of the position to be paid with local money. 

 

Impacts to extra-curriculars 

Extra-curricular activities won’t be immune from budget cuts. Most notable, perhaps, will be a $130,500 reduction in funding for coaching positions and athletic support. 

Currently, the school district pays stipends for coaches and also cuts a check to each school for athletic programs that don’t raise much money with gate receipts. 

Going forward, the school system will likely fund head coaches only, no assistants. And sports that are typically low on gate receipts will likely need to find other ways to fund themselves. 

“To cover some of those non-revenue sports, we’d look at a participation fee or they may have to do some fundraising,” Garrett said.

Band and choral programs would see cuts as well, with allocations for band supplies and instrument purchases falling by $17,500, cutting funding by more than half. Band travel would be cut by 50 percent to $4,000, and choral supplies would also decrease by half, to $1,900.

 

Administration cuts 

The list of proposed cuts is light on reductions affecting central office staff, but according to Nolte that’s because any surplus is already long gone. 

“What you’re looking at there is the cuts after the cuts,” Francis agreed.

Currently, 26 people work full-time out of the central office building. That’s five fewer than in 2008-09, a reduction of 16 percent. Eliminated positions include student services/community schools director, offset press manager, custodian, payroll supervisor and transportation director. 

“In all those cases, the duties were transferred to other people,” Nolte said. 

The list of proposed cuts does include some small reductions in administrative funding, however. The $10,850 budget for the school board’s supplies and materials will be reduced by $2,500. The district will also surplus two staff cars, getting rid of $7,500 in expenses and bringing in a little revenue through their sale. 

School administrators will also see some cuts, with staff development budgets for principals and vice principals cut in half. The supplement they receive to pay for their cell phones — it’s important for administrators to be reachable after-hours — will also be cut from $40 to $30 per month. Bus drivers get a supplement as well, though at $10 a month it’s substantially less. 

The reduced budget will also cut costs for facilities and utilities. Overtime availability will be reduced for custodians, saving the district $25,000. Office supplies will be slashed by $36,200, a 71 percent reduction. The maintenance department will crank down on its budget to eke out $50,000 in savings. 

All together, the recommended cuts will allow Haywood Schools to stay in business. All the cuts are to recurring costs, meaning they’ll carry over to the next school year. But the big question mark for administrators is what the following school year will bring. Will the school system lose more students, and the state money that goes with them? Will state allocations decrease further? Will election-year teacher raises put untenable strain on the local funding pot? 

“We think this will give us an operational budget we might be able to sustain, but we don’t think this will put us ahead of the curve,” Garrett said. “We’re at the mercy of the state Legislature and what they do with funds.”

 

 

What’s getting cut

Earlier this month, the Haywood County School Board gave preliminary approval to a list of budget cuts aimed at making up the $2.4 million budget shortfall the school system found itself facing for the coming year. 

After years of stealing from its savings account to soften the blows dealt by funding cuts from higher up, that account has no extra money left, and a reduction in student population means the school system is getting millions less in per-pupil money from the state than it was as recently as two years ago. To compensate, the school board is looking into closing Central Elementary School in Waynesville but will have to take more cost-cutting measures as well if it wants to balance the budget. Here’s a list of proposed cuts:

• 22 teaching positions, $1.07 million reduction (51 percent).

• Shifting funding sources for some staff to create savings, $303,714 reduction.

• Office supplies across schools and programs, $36,200 (71 percent).

• Contributions toward school fundraisers, $24,500 reduction (100 percent).

• Athletic support, $10,500 (50 percent).

• Staff development for principals and assistance principals, $12,700 reduction (50 percent).

• Band supplies, instrument purchase and travel, $21,500 reduction (54 percent reduction).

• Choral supplies, $1,900 reduction (50 percent).

• Media clerk position, $41,465 reduction (100 percent).

• Two high school clerical positions, $62,299 reduction.

• Cell phone supplement reduction, $7,825 reduction.

• Shift administrative funding sources, $42,000.

• Reorganize maintenance and transportation support duties, $9,400 reduction.

• Academic remediation for middle and high school students, $110,000 reduction (41 percent).

• Local career/technical education funding, $42,040.

• Service contract with Mountain Mediation, $11,000 reduction (100 percent).

• Uniforms, $1,292 (100 percent).

• N.C. Association of School Administrators dues, $6,700 reduction (100 percent).

• School board materials and supplies, $2,500 reduction (23 percent).

• Maintenance costs, $50,000 reduction. 

• Electricity for closed child development center, $10,000 reduction (56 percent).

• Custodial overtime, $25,000 reduction (58 percent).

• New kindergarten classroom start-up costs, $8,000 reduction (100 percent).

• Instructional and school materials, $53,281 reduction (20 percent).

• Telecommunications, $100,000 reduction.

• Local exceptional children program funding, $101,000 reduction (77 percent).

• County supplement, $48,000.

• Coaching for after-school programs, including athletics, $120,000 (42 percent reduction).

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Last modified on Thursday, 21/01/2016

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