Schools facing cuts|System needs to trim $1.1M from budget

Published 12:55 pm Thursday, August 20, 2009

Staff Writer

As students and teachers prepare to begin a new school year Tuesday, Beaufort County Schools officials are crunching numbers in reaction to a budget recently approved by state lawmakers that left the school system tightening its belt but in better financial shape than they feared.
Beaufort County Schools will have to trim some $1.1 million from its 2009-2010 budget and possibly face additional cuts as the year progresses, school officials said this week.
To date, those cuts will not mean any layoffs for school employees. But the cuts will likely lead to larger class sizes for students in some classes, according to interim Superintendent William Rivenbark.
Most employee raises will be put on hold for at least this school year and possibly future years, he said.
“These cuts are a lot of money, particularly for a low-wealth school system,” Rivenbark said.
“But it’s important for the public to know that, yes, we are in a budget crisis, but, yes, we are going to have school,” he said. “And I think we’re going to have a quality year. We’re working very hard to make sure that happens.”
When it approved the state budget for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, the N.C. General Assembly approved cuts of $225 million statewide from the public schools budget. Under this budget, public education statewide will see a 4.8 percent, or $1.8 billion, cut in its budget from last year.
State lawmakers left local school boards with the task of identifying specific cuts to be made in their systems’ budgets.
The budget maintains class size in kindergarten through third grade, and its asks local officials to try to protect classroom instruction. It leaves the decision up to local school boards as to whether to increase class size in fourth through 12th grades.
About 66 percent of the Beaufort County school system’s approximately $60 million budget comes from the state; about 22 percent from local appropriations and about 12 percent from the federal government.
Beaufort County Schools will start the new school year next week with about 16 fewer teachers and about 16 fewer teacher assistants than last year, in an effort to meet the required state-budget reductions. It has trimmed four employees from the central office staff.
It has accomplished these reductions without having to lay off any employees — reducing staff through retirements, transfers and not filling vacant positions, Rivenbark said.
And although employees earning their master’s degrees or receiving national board certification will see their efforts rewarded with scheduled raises, they will not receive “step” or longevity pay increases this year.
Rivenbark said it’s too early to tell which specific classes, if any, will see a greater enrollments.
The school system will see a reduction of about $80,000 in its transportation budget, even as it needs to add two additional buses, taken from those in reserve, to its daily routes, Rivenbark said.
State lawmakers also eliminated about $200,000 in state funding for programs that provide tutors or extra classroom materials for students at local schools.
Rivenbark said the system will strive to use other sources of funding that may be available to help offset those cuts but that the same amount of remediation help as last year will not be available at all schools.
“We’ll help out to meet any critical needs that we can but we won’t have the resources that we have had in the past,” he said. “We’ll have to pick and choose what will get the best results.”
As anticipated, state lawmakers eliminated some funding for programs that allow high school students to enroll at local community colleges at no charge and receive college credits for those courses.
The state retained funding for math, science and vocational courses, but it eliminated funding for other popular general-college courses such as English and history.
School officials said last week they have been able to reschedule for the fall the approximately 25 students enrolled in those classes and are continuing to work to reschedule students for the spring semester.
Rivenbark said the Beaufort County Schools staff had worked during the past year to anticipate the current budget cuts, a move that has made absorbing those cuts easier.
“We cut back to the bone, knowing that this was coming,” he said.
He fears additional cuts may be on the horizon.
“We’ve been warned to anticipate additional cuts after Christmas. We need to brace ourselves for that,” he said.