“Last year was also a difficult financial year,” said Superintendent Dr. Anne Garrett in her annual budget message to the board on March 13. “Cuts included personnel, program supplies and materials, travel, remediation, and assistant coaches. However, no program was cut in its entirety. This budget reflects reinstatements to program areas.”
While the proposed $16.2 million operating budget doesn’t fully restore all of the previous year’s cuts, it does come close.
“It’s not luck, it’s more like hard work,” School Board Chairman Chuck Francis said. “It’s looking for every way we can cut funds and save money and re-disburse that into areas we unfortunately had to cut.”
The cuts don’t seem to have had much of an effect on students. Of 115 school districts in North Carolina, Haywood County’s schools ranked 11th in the state last year, up from 15th in both 2014 and 2015; last year 550 graduating seniors racked up more than $9 million in scholarships.
The local current expense portion of the budget — which covers operating costs like contracted services, repairs, supplies, support personnel and utilities in addition to instructional and instructional support personnel — proposes a modest 2 percent increase in salary for all staff.
The capital outlay budget, used for equipment, renovations, repairs and safety features has earmarked more than $125,000 for electrical, HVAC and plumbing upgrades, as well as another $50,000 for paving and more than $100,000 in funds for contingency roof repairs.
The child nutrition portion of the budget is proposed right at $4 million, and includes a federally mandated meal price increase; that increase, originally slated at 5 cents, was recalculated to 7 cents but will end up being 10 cents.
Board members stressed that while not perfect and not complete, the proposed budget is off to a decent start.
“I think we’ve got a good working document that is a good plan at the current time, knowing what we know,” Francis said.
Newly elected school board member Ronnie Clark, however, has reservations.
“We’re still working on a few things,” Clark said. “I’ve expressed a few concerns, and we may have to pass it and make some adjustments later.”
One of those concerns is about the board dipping in to the fund balance to help make ends meet.
“Long term, we’re looking at pulling $300,000 out of fund balance, so we’re going to have to find some more areas to slim down, or get some more money from county commissioners,” he said.
One of the reasons may just be HB 13, an unfunded mandate that if passed would reduce class sizes and necessitate the addition of 10 primary school teachers to the district’s payroll.
“That’s going to put a strain on our budget,” Francis said. “We’ve taken that into consideration [in the proposed budget], but if it doesn’t happen, we’ll have the ability to go back and adjust and bring that money back into our budget.”
Garrett’s budget message says that “if monies are available from the State for HB 13, local money will be used to upgrade and increase the local supplement for certified staff,” which would contribute greatly to the teacher retention issue the county currently faces.
As of March 14, the bill had passed three readings in the House and one in the Senate, so it appears it to have a good chance of becoming law. The school board’s next move is to present the budget to Haywood County Commissioners, most likely in April. A final vote would be held in June.