Cabarrus County Schools’ proposed budget for the 2013-14 school year includes requests for more than $10 million in capital improvements and teacher pay raises.
The Cabarrus County Board of Education approved the proposed 2013-14 budget April 15. The proposal will be presented to the Board of Commissioners May 29.
The school system’s budget makes up roughly 45 percent of county’s total budget, including money to pay down construction debt on newly built schools. The county budget could be approved as early as June 17 during its public hearing, but the commissioners have until June 30 to approve it.
Cabarrus County Schools Superintendent Barry Shepherd said he doesn’t expect all of the proposed budget to be approved, but it does highlight the needs of the school system.
“Even if the county adopts our proposed budget as is, the state budget – if approved as is – could still deliver a huge blow to the system,” said Shepherd, who is expecting the county to fund the school system at the same level as it did last year.
“I’m trying to be realistic about it because I know we’re asking for a lot in terms of increases. The commissioners have made some very tough decisions over the last five years, and this year is certainly no different.”
Gov. Pat McCrory has proposed $234 million in education cuts statewide over the next two years. Part of the cuts could eliminate 100 teacher assistant positions in elementary schools, said Kelly Kluttz, chief finance officer for the Cabarrus school system.
County schools officials learned about the governor’s proposed budget cuts after the school board had already approved its proposed budget.
“A lot of this is planning for a future that is not as clear as we’d like right now,” said Shepherd. “And when we hear what’s going on at the federal level with sequestration, and then when we see where the governor’s budget is going … , it is beyond anything that we’ve been asked to do in education in my last 27 years.”
More students, less money
Cabarrus school officials expect enrollment to increase by about 800 students next year. So if funding remains at last year’s level, it will mean the county is spending less per pupil than last year.
The system now spends about $6,900 per pupil, with an enrollment of 29,130. That amount ranks 114th out of 115 school districts in the state in terms of total funding from state, federal and local governments. It ranks 59th in local funding per pupil and 107th in state funding per pupil.
Shepherd said the education system throughout the state has continually been asked to do more with less. He likened the situation to a rubber band that’s ready to snap, adding CCS has already cut funds for supplies and staff development, reduced the number of hours for teacher assistants, and reduced the number of clerical staff and administrators.
Kluttz also talked about the massive cuts over the past several years.
“We scrapped our budgets to the point where we don’t feel like we can scrap it any longer without affecting … our students,” said Kluttz.
The $10 million in capital requests would address immediate needs throughout the system that have been put on hold because of a continually shrinking budget.
Several capital projects promise a return on investment in less than five years, said Kluttz. Replacing $2.5 million worth of lighting fixtures, for example, could save hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in energy costs.
“And if we can keep the money in our system, we can put that back into the classroom after we’ve returned the investment,” said Kluttz.
Winners and losers
If the proposed budget passes, Shepherd said a big winner would be the teachers.
“We’re looking at trying to restore (teachers’) salaries to a level that would comparable to other districts in our area,” he said. “It also could affect our ability to recruit high-quality teachers. … ”
Teachers were given a small increase last year but had no raises for the three years before that.
First-time school board member Jeff Phillips served on the budget committee. He has two children in high school.
Phillips said the district’s capital needs are depressing at best.
“Everything is kind of up in the air, but worst-case scenario is the system will only get the same amount of money it got last year,” said Phillips.
But operating on last year’s budget has consequences.
“We can’t do any of the security upgrades that we feel the schools need. We can’t give the teachers an increase in salary, and we’re going to lose mechanics because the private sector pays more,” said Phillips. “And we could lose teachers to other school districts that offer more.”
Phillips likened the budget to car maintenance.
“Sure, you can save money by not changing the oil in your car. But eventually, that car is going to stop running,” he said.
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