Schools may be coming up short

By Mary Katherine Murphy - [email protected]

LAURINBURG — Though preliminary reports of a budget compromise reached on Monday in the N.C General Assembly indicate that funding will be restored for driver education and teacher assistants across the state, the Scotland County Schools may still need to balance its budget using fund balance.

So far this year, the school system has operated based on N.C. Department of Public Instruction projections that it would enroll 111 more children than it currently does, school system finance officer Jay Toland told the Scotland County Board of Education during a Monday meeting.

“DPI gives you a 100 children buffer, so obviously 111 is over that,” said Toland. “What happens is reductions to classroom teachers, instructional support, non-instructional support, teacher assistants, and supplies.”

The school system still has several weeks before the state takes a final measure of its average daily membership, but without more students the system stands to lose $323,000 in state funding. According to Toland, that money equates to four teachers, a full-time instructional support position, a teacher assistant, and $10,000 in supplies.

“The best-case scenario is that we can get this under 100 and then there’s no reduction,” he said.

Superintendent Ron Hargrave said he is confident that the school system will recover many of the students who did not return to school at the beginning of the year, assisted by new measures such as afternoon and evening classes for those who would otherwise have to drop out due to work and family commitments.

“No situation that they’re in is so bad that they can’t continue their education,” said Hargrave.

The uncertainty regarding state funding levels for the current year, Toland said, justifies the school system’s level of fund balance. With a $62 million budget, the system’s $2 million in unassigned fund balance allowed the system to fully staff schools for the start of the year and compensate for budget cuts through attrition.

“When human resources and finance sit down in the spring, we make our recommendations on staffing for the schools based on what DPI has allotted — we have no way to forecast state budget cuts or a reduction in ADM,” said Toland. “So it’s important that we use fund balance as a tool to smooth out that process.”

For the current year, the schools anticipated using about $500,000 in fund balance to compensate for projected state cuts to teacher assistants and driver education. Without fund balance available, the system would have laid off 15 teacher assistants.

“When you read a lot of the research about educating at-risk children, it really talks about how those children need stability,” Toland said. “Using fund balance leads to stability.”

In other business on Monday, the school board recognized Laurel Hill Elementary fifth grader and “kid president” Gabriel Jones for his video guide, produced with the help of fourth grade teacher Misty Peed, to good behavior in common school areas.

The board also applauded the school system’s finance department, which for the fifth year in a row received the N.C. Association of School Business Officials Certificate of Excellence in Financial Reporting and the Governor’s Finance Office Association Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting.

Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.

By Mary Katherine Murphy

[email protected]

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