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Everything is on the table financially in Macon County

Macon County Schools, like other local school systems in North Carolina, has been warned by state leaders to plan for cuts that could mount as high as 15 percent.

Along with other county departments, the school system will have to make some difficult choices in the days and months to come, Macon County commissioners agreed during a recent work session. Such as tapping into the schools’ fund balance — broadly speaking, the difference between assets and liabilities on its balance sheet — to help reconcile financial needs with actual available dollars.

Macon County Schools Superintendent Dan Brigman said this week the schools’ current fund balance comes to about $3 million. This money, Brigman noted, includes certain money allocated last summer by the federal government.

“We have worked very hard in the Macon County school system to preserve the fund balance in preparation for the loss of (some state money) to be removed July 1,” Brigman said, which will create an immediate “$2.4 million deficit in our state budget allocations for Macon County as a result of these dollars being taken away.”

Also important to understand, Brigman said, is that additional cuts might well come from the state.

Hard times, however, might call for hard choices.

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“I always sound like I’m down on the school board,” Commissioner Bobby Kuppers said, adding that he’s not against school board members — rather, Kuppers emphasized, he’s a big supporter.

However, Kuppers said, “their fund balance is our fund balance — the bottom line is, they can’t look to me for $2.5 million while protecting $3 million … we’ve got to be really smart, and really careful, about what we invest our fund balance in.”

Macon County Manager Jack Horton told commissioners a 15-percent cut by the state to local schools could translate to the loss of 5,000 teaching positions statewide.

Kevin Corbin, a long-time Macon County Board of Education member who stepped in to complete the final two years of commissioner-now-state-senator Jim Davis’ term, said he doesn’t believe the county’s fund balance would be well spent funding continuing expenses such as salaries.

“(But) if this year and next year we have truly bottomed out, then using the fund balance (to bridge the gap) isn’t a bad thing,” Corbin said.

“We’ve had to make some very hard decisions the last three years,” Commission Chairman Brian McClellan said. “It’s going to be more of the same, and nobody is exempt from that.”

Macon County Schools’ entire total budget to operate the school system is $31,579,444.

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