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Wednesday, 20 April 2011 20:23

Jackson educators expecting deep state dollar cuts

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Jackson County Schools isn’t asking for extra money this year from county commissioners despite an expected 10 percent or more cut from the state.

What is taking a back seat in these tough economic times, however, are school-board members’ wishes to build a new gymnasium and fine arts building at Smoky Mountain High School in Sylva.

“Our school board is ... unanimous in wanting to finish the fine arts building and gymnasium,” Alie Laird-Large told commissioners during a joint workshop this week, adding that she hopes a “conversation at some point” could take place on that plan. A site has already been prepared.

Laird-Large said she and the other school board members would like to get some architectural designs and plans done, if possible. There were no commitments one way or another from commissioners.

What dominated the bulk of conversation during the work session were the possible state cuts to education funding. Gwen Edwards, the schools finance officer, outlined scenarios if what is currently being considered in the state House becomes reality. As she pointed out, the numbers “are changing by the minute,” so getting a fix on the future is proving difficult.

Funding for teachers assistants, textbooks, school buses and more is on the table, Edwards said. She projected the schools could lose $2.3 million under the House proposal. An additional $1.1 million or so in federal funding, temporary dollars, are also going away this year, Edwards said.

“We knew this was going to happen, it’s not like this was a surprise,” she told commissioners, adding the schools still hope to receive the nearly $6.8 million the county gave the system last year. Everything that could be done to reduce costs has taken place, she said, including not filling vacancies.

“(So) we’re not asking for increase — but if we could get the same amount of money we’d be very happy,” Edwards said.

Additionally, the schools are seeking $235,000 in capital outlay funding, for such items as roof and boiler repairs, more security cameras and a phone-system upgrade.

Commission Chairman Jack Debnam suggested another joint work session take place when the actual extent of state cuts becomes known.

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