Cabarrus schools face $6.1 million cut

The Cabarrus County Board of Education's proposed budget would reduce spending for the system by $6.1 million for the 2011-2012 school year.

That planned reduction will allow the system to manage an expected 10 percent reduction in state funding, according to the Cabarrus County Schools' website.

"I don't know anybody who has seen something like this in the public education system," said system Superintendent Barry Shepherd. "But it has made us look at how we spend more thoroughly, which has led to us making better decisions with taxpayer dollars."

Cabarrus County Schools saved $5.5 million from the Federal Education Jobs Bill in 2010 to preserve jobs now rather than hire additional teachers then, and that money helps offset expected budget cuts. The board's proposed budget for fiscal year 2012 will be presented to Cabarrus County commissioners in May and voted on by June 30.

The board adopted 37 items from a prioritized list of 51 areas that could be affected because of expectations of an 8 percent to 10 percent reduction in state funding. Shepherd said this is the worst budget crisis the school system ever has faced, and CCS likely will have to look for more reductions next year.

"Since we entered this crisis a couple years ago, our goal was to adapt and thrive," Shepherd said. "We will expect to get even better results next year with even fewer resources, and we are committed to finding ways to save taxpayer dollars so we don't have to reduce teaching positions in the 2012-2013 school year."

The board of education's proposed budget minimizes the impact on the classroom and includes a 20 percent reduction in department and school supplies, a 10 percent reduction of teacher assistant positions and a reduction in central office administration positions. No class-size increases are planned for 2011-12.

"During our budget process we were preparing for 5, 10 and 15 percent cuts," said board member Holly Blackwelder. "After much discussion at the state level, we believe we are looking more feasibly at a $6 million cut. However, this number could change when the state gives us their final budget."

Nearly 40 advisory committees, 20 sub-committees, a budget committee and the board considered more than 200 ideas over the four-month budget process. The result was the prioritized list of 51 areas of possible cuts.

"We are trying to cut things rather than jobs, or people," said Blackwelder. "We are already a very lean district - rated 114 out of 115 districts across the state when it comes to the administration to student ratio - and we're keeping in mind that we are one of the top 10 largest districts in the state. There will possibly be clerical and (teacher assistant) positions cut and additional staff hours or months of employment reduced."

School staff on the budget committee represented programs and were an integral part of the process.

They "had a voice - and also understood that everyone would be impacted in some manner - and were very willing to be a part of the solution addressing the cuts," said Blackwelder.

The budget process has been very transparent and has allowed good work to be done, which will set the framework for next year's budget, said Blackwelder.

"We have been doing more with less for years, which is not only an understatement, but a testimony," said Blackwelder. "We have had our funding at the state level cut every year since 2007, yet we have grown by over 1,000 students. The positive side is we have been very proactive with our new budget committee process and we're much more prepared than many districts."