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Macon schools seek more funding

Facing a dire state budget outlook and a loss of one-time federal stimulus dollars, Macon County School’s leaders came hat in hand this week asking county commissioners for money.

The school system wants a budget increase of more $1.15 million from the county — both to offset cuts at the state and federal level and to make up for a maintenance backlog brought on by funding cuts in previous years.

The school system is seeking $6.9 million for fiscal year 2012-2013 — up from $6.7 million this fiscal year — plus $1.2 million in capital outlay funding to take care of building maintenance needs. The schools received $250,000 in capital outlay this year.

Macon County commissioners are now working through their own budget process and made no promises one way or another during the work session. County Chairman Kevin Corbin did emphasize that hard times made for hard budget choices, but the former longtime school board chairman also expressed the desire to financially support the schools.

“We’re committed to education,” Corbin said.

Macon County does not plan on instituting a property tax increase this year.

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Macon County Schools Superintendent Dan Brigman forecast an expected $1.4 million cut in state funding. That amount could be offset, however, in the unlikely event that a Gov. Beverly Perdue proposed three-quarter cent sales tax increase passes the General Assembly, Brigman said. Revenue from the tax increase would be dedicated to schools. Macon County also has completely used up $1 million in federal stimulus money in a two-year allocation that was dedicated to school salaries.

“That money was a temporary patch,” Brigman said.

Macon County Schools since 2008 has eliminated through attrition 22.5 jobs, including a principal’s position, 6.5 teachers and 15 teacher assistants.

“The classrooms have been impacted,” Brigman told commissioners.

The biggest discussion point involved money for technology. Macon County Schools has fallen so far behind on replacing computers it’s now on a nine-year rotation schedule, which in the fast-moving world of technology renders the equipment virtually obsolete. Brigman requested $489,000 this upcoming budget year.

This, schools technology leader Tim Burrell said, would put Macon County Schools on a five-year rotation for equipment. It would then require $389,000 annually to keep the schools on that rotation.

School leaders said it would actually take more, $1.2 million, to completely catchup Macon Schools regarding current equipment replacement.

“So that would get you to the starting line,” Commissioner Bobby Kuppers said of the $1.2 million, which is not contained in the actual request for fiscal year 2012-2013.

Kuppers is a teacher at Franklin High School.

One looming issue for Macon County Schools is that starting in 2013 students will be state-required to take and pass online assessments. Burrell said there are not enough computers available at this point for that to take place.

Commissioners asked for a breakdown on exactly what equipment is needed to bring the current system up to snuff plus prepare the schools for conducting online assessments of students.

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