County manager indicates Forsyth County unlikely to deliver additional funds requested by schools

by Keith Barber

County manager indicates Forsyth County unlikely to deliver additional funds requested by schools

Winston_Salem/Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Donald L. Martin requested an additional $3.2 million in funding for the school system for the coming fiscal year during a briefing session of the Forsyth County Commission on April 28. The request for a total of $115.5 million — a 2.8-percent increase over the current school year — is based on the assumption the county will re-appropriate the $2.7 million in one-time monies — known as continuation funding — included in the $112.3 million budgeted for the current school year. The county’s base budget for the school system is $109.6 million, thus creating a budget gap of nearly $6 million for the coming fiscal year.

Last year, the county took $2.7 million continuation funding out of its general fund to make up a shortfall in the school system’s budget.

Martin explained to the commissioners that the school system needs slightly more than $1.5 million to open its two new schools — Walkertown High School and Morgan Elementary School, which will be located in Clemmons.

Martin said the school system also needs $750,000 in additional funding for matching health insurance and retirement costs for local-paid employees; slightly more than $650,000 for utility rate increases; $450,000 to comply with a proposed state law that will require school districts to share more of their county funding with charter schools; and $300,000 for increased cost for worker’s compensation, unemployment, property, casualty and liability insurance.

Martin said the county will save $500,000 in local supplements to licensed state positions due to the elimination of those positions by anticipated state budget cuts, including the potential loss of all teaching assistants at the second and third-grade levels. With the NC General Assembly proposing to reduce K-12 public education funding by at least $700 million, Martin said the school system is facing at least $27 million in funding cuts. That potential loss of funding will be offset by a combined $10 million in federal funding from the Jobs Bill, which was signed into law by President Obama last August, and the Race to the Top Fund, which is administered by the US Department of Education.

Martin told the commissioners that the school system is considering an across-theboard pay cut as a cost saving measure, and the board approved a furlough day during its April 26 meeting. A recent online survey of teachers revealed that more than 80 percent of respondents chose a furlough day over other cost-saving options, schools spokesman Theo Helm said. The single furlough day would save the school system $1.1 million, Martin said.

In neighboring Guilford County’s public school system, Superintendent Mo Green has proposed pay cuts and furloughs as a last resort to cover $35.6 million in spending cuts planned in anticipation of reduced state funding. Martin acknowledged that both the school system and the county are dealing with the harsh reality of the current economic recession and both boards will have to make painful cuts.

Martin said he plans to meet with Rep. Dale Folwell (R-Forsyth) this week, and would raise the issue of the importance of not cutting pre-K education programs like Smart Start and More At Four. The superintendent said he’s very concerned about the current budget proposal by Republicans in the NC House that would eliminate all teaching assistant positions for second and third-grade classrooms.

Last month, state Republican lawmakers presented a budget for the coming fiscal year that makes drastic cuts to education, including a 20-percent reduction in funding to the early childhood education programs Smart Start and More At Four. The proposed budget reduces Smart Start by $36 million and More At Four by $30 million. The Republican budget will also eliminate an estimated 22,000 teacher and teacher assistant positions.

During its meeting on April 26, Kerry Crutchfield, the retired director of finance for the school system, told the school board that the $2.7 million in continuation funding will be a “big issue” for the county, explaining that the school system could not count on that money. Crutchfield also said that any additional funding to offset anticipated state budget cuts is up in the air.

Forsyth County Manager Dudley Watts confirmed that the focal point of discussions between the county and the school system is the level of continuation funding given the impact of state cuts to education.

“When they make state cuts, they save some local money when they [cut] the state funding and who gets credited for that [is uncertain],” Watts said. “Our [situation] is a bit more stable right now — we just don’t have revenue growth so we’ve got to find room in our budget through our own expenditure reductions to make up for the fact we don’t have any real revenue growth.”

The county commission is unlikely to raise taxes, with the likely result that the school system will have to balance its budget with further cuts instead.

“I think it’s going to be hard to have increased funding for the schools locally when they’re going to be looking at big reductions in state funding,” Watts said.