The Transylvania Times -

School System Facing Dwindling Revenues

 

August 24, 2017



Monday evening the Transylvania County Board of Education received news that revenues from various sources were down last year and more sources of revenue will be eliminated in the coming school year.

While discussing amendments to the 2016-17 school budget, Norris Barger said there was a $740,000 decrease in state funding, part of which was due to a bookkeeping error.

“Part of that was just a data entry error on my part,” said Barger, who explained that he transposed a number earlier in the year. “I’ll take the blame on that. That’s the reason for the $500,000 decrease.”

He also said some of the adjustments in the state funding were due to the county not receiving a budget from the state until after the school system began.

Revenues from the local current expense fund were down $338,000.

The lower revenues, Barger said, put the school system’s fund balance at approximately $370,000.

“So that money reflects what the commissioners gave us based on their formula?” asked board member Alice Wellborn.

“Yes,” said Barger.

“How does that figure (revenue from the county) compare to the previous year?” asked board chair Ron Kiviniemi.

“We lost about the same amount of money in this past year as we lost in the previous year – about $300,000,” said Barger.

Superintendent Dr. Jeff McDaris said that by the time other factors, such as increases in health insurance and salaries, are considered, the local money is just allowing the school system to “tread water.”

But Kiviniemi said that if the school system received $338,000 less, “we’re not even treading water.”

“We’re at a point now where that cannot continue to happen at this magnitude,” said Barger.

Wellborn said correcting the revenue problem would require a change in the funding formula the county uses to fund the school’s operational needs.

“The funding formula has some serious imperfections,” said Kiviniemi, adding that the formula has not allowed the school system to keep up with the state mandated increases of the last two years.

Kiviniemi added that any adjustment for state mandated increases is “always lagging a year behind.”

Board member Marty Griffin said the board told the commissioners when the formula was introduced that it would put the school system in a financial hole.

“We did say, on several occasions, that we would not be able to maintain current operations based on those formulas,” agreed Barger.

“So we actually have the proof now,” said Griffin. “We have the proof now to tell the commissioners that ‘you do not fund us enough to begin with.’”

“They did not fund us at the current level of our operations,” said Barger.

Wellborn said the funding formula is based on ADM (average daily membership) and when the schools lose 20 children, that does not decrease the number of buildings that are operated or buses that run routes.

Barger also said it does not change the number of teachers needed because those 20 children are not leaving just one classroom.

Barger provided good and bad news on federal grant funding.

He said the school system received about $300,000 more in federal grant funding last year, but that many of those grants will not be available this year.

Barger said the school system would probably lose $200,000 in federal grants.

“Does that mean we are going to lose those programs?” asked Griffin.

“Yes. We certainly can’t fund them locally unless the state or the federal government comes up with some other funding,” said Barger.

Barger said the school system no longer qualifies for RLIS (rural, low income schools) grants because Brevard is classified as an “urban” area.

That money has been used to employ social workers in the schools.

Griffin asked where the most serious cuts would occur if the school system loses more grant money.

“I think where you are going to find yourself is that the only federal grants you are going to have are Title I, Title II and Title III, which is your elementary instruction, your professional development and support for those initiatives, though that’s debatable, and then Title III is all ESL (English as a Second Language), which is all very minimal for us,” said Jeremy Gibbs, the school system’s chief academic officer. “That’s all we’ve been able to make applications for in this fiscal year. All of those smaller grants, like RLIS, seem to be largely gone.”

Brian Weaver, senior director of human resources, said any time there is a decrease in funding, regardless of the source, the school system has to evaluate positions in “the highest need areas.”

Kiviniemi said he would like to see a report comparing the number of school counselors for the last two years, as well as a counselor-to-student ratio.

Weaver said there are still counselors in every school, but the number of positions has decreased.

“But still, students per counselor has increased,” said Kiviniemi.

McDaris said some people say they don’t want cuts to the classroom, but any cut directly or indirectly affects the classroom.

Board member Betty Scruggs McGaha asked if students still need these programs.

“The needs are still there,” said McDaris. “We are trying to do everything we can to maintain those services for children.”

McDaris said that the interaction between students and the counselors, however, is not as frequent.

McGaha said all students can learn, but since students are different some of them need additional resources.

In addition to cuts in federal grants, unfunded mandates by the state General Assembly also have increased financial pressure on the school system.

Barger said that all of the state mandated increases, such as those for retirement and health insurance, amounted to 2.2 percent of total FY 17 budget. He said the school board has no control over those items because they are mandated by the state.

“Our funding went up a total of 1.76 percent,” said Barger. “So we were roughly half a percentage short of our budget to just fund the state mandated items that we have. We were in the hole to begin with.”

Barger said they were able to reduce the deficit by eliminating one central office position, two teaching positions and one instructional support position.

An unfunded state mandate lowering class size in elementary grades also has created financial pressures.

McDaris said school administrators are watching enrollment very closely because they are “right at the cap” on second grade regarding class size.

Barger and McDaris said the school system is close to exceeding the classroom cap.

If the grade level in a particular school exceeds that cap by one student, the school would need an additional teacher and classroom.

“Is that going to be paid for by the state?” asked Griffin.

“No,” said Barger.

Griffin asked if the school board would then have to go ask the commissioners for more money to fund the position before they could hire someone.

McDaris and Barger said the money would have to come from somewhere else in the school budget.

“We’re basically robbing Peter to pay Paul,”said Griffin. “I don’t know what we’ve come to.”

McDaris said school funding is not like household funding because revenue cannot be shifted from one area to another.

“There are rules with each line item,” said McDaris. “You can't just automatically move it from one category to another.”

Board chair Tawny McCoy said there have been reductions at the central office but she hears some people claim school systems in general are “top heavy.”

“I don’t believe while I’ve been on the board that’s ever been true,” said McCoy.

She said the administrative staff is being asked to take on more duties and they do an amazing job of helping to provide a quality of education in the classroom.

McGaha said central office staff works not only with teachers but also with students.

“We all know the value of our staff here at the central office,” said McGaha. “Their services are invaluable.”

“It’s a great team. They make it work,” said McDaris.

He said there are some very talented people in the central office who have decided to use their talents to help children.

McCoy also said that when the school board discussed a funding formula with the county commissioners, it was to be for a two-year period.

“I think it’s time to have that discussion again,” said McCoy regarding the funding formula. “We need to let them know the formula we have been working through is not acceptable.”

Regarding capital expenditures for the coming year, Barger said the school system has received $1.8 million from county and $366,000 in lottery proceeds.

Barger said the school system had to cut about $1.4 million from its project list.

“That’s quite a few needs that went unmet,” Barger said.

Wellborn said community volunteers have helped with several capital projects, such as new playground at Brevard Elementary and a new outdoor classroom at Pisgah Forest Elementary.

Barger also said there was a lot of community support to fix the football field at Rosman.

By the end of the meeting, the board had unanimously approved the budget amendments for 2016-17 and had unanimously approved a budget resolution for the 2017-18 school year.

 
 

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