LAURINBURG — Contrary to earlier estimates forecasting $12.5 million in county funding to the Scotland County Schools for the 2014-2015 year, the school system is currently budgeting just over $11 million for the upcoming school year.
An initial projection, forwarded to the Scotland County Board of Commissioners early last month by the school system’s finance department, would have required $2.3 million in additional county funding over the current year’s $10.1 million. Funding the schools at that level would mean a 16 cent increase on the property tax rate, which county officials have said is not an option.
According to County Manager Kevin Patterson, the initial $12.5 million estimate was based on incorrect calculations from the state Department of Public Instruction. The correct funding amount, based on enrollment projections of 6,069 for the 2014-2015 school year, is $11,032,000 — still an $892,000 increase over the current year’s local school funding.
Though significantly less than the original figure, the increase is unprecedented within a one-year period. In the last several years, Scotland County’s local school funding has hovered near the $10.1 million level. For the 2013-2014 fiscal year, the schools drew $10,139,325 in county funding, up from $10,075,654 in 2012-2013.
In 2011-2012, the county contributed $10,121,464 to the school system.
Patterson said that with no expected increase in revenue, along with a state mandate to double the county health department’s budget, the smaller increase in school funding will still put the county at a several-million dollar deficit as it begins its budget discussions for the upcoming fiscal year.
“We have the obligation and the desire to provide an excellent education here, but unlike the school system the commissioners also have to make sure that we have public health, public safety, and a business environment, so they have to have the broader picture in mind,” Patterson said.
The additional $892,000 mandated by the county’s school funding formula reflects increases in local school funding by North Carolina’s other low-wealth counties, according to school finance officer Jay Toland, compensating in many cases for the expiration of federal program funds.
“You have federal programs that expire, and now Race to the Top is about to expire,” Toland said. “School districts still want to continue these programs and to keep them going once the federal funding dries up, you use local money.”
Toland said that, based on initial projections, $750,000 to $1 million in federal funds to the Scotland County Schools could expire in the next school year.
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-276-2311, ext. 17. Follow her on Twitter @emkaylbg.