Board faces roof decision

Published 12:38 pm Sunday, April 25, 2010

Staff Writer

Installing a new roof at Washington High School is the top priority in the Beaufort County Schools’ capital-outlay budget for the 2010-2011 fiscal year. 
But which of the remaining 38 capital projects in the budget come to fruition during the next fiscal year depends on the type of roof installed at the high school — one that will last for 30 years at an estimated cost of $750,000 or one that will last only 10 years at about half that cost.
The Beaufort County Board of Education unanimously approved a $1.5 million capital budget for the 2010-2011 fiscal year Thursday night, and it decided to seek bids for both options for the WHS roof.
But the board delayed action until Monday on a proposed $13.2 million local current expense budget for 2010-2011 to give school leaders more time to study the effects of education cuts in Gov. Beverly Perdue’s proposed state budget and take the temperature of county leaders in regard to school funding.
BCS Superintendent Don Phipps presented the board with a proposed current expense budget of $13.2 million for 2010-2011. It is an increase of $592,150, or about 4.6 percent, over the 2009-2010 budget of $12.6 million. But it represents a 14 percent decrease from the 2008-2009 budget of $15.3 million.
About one-third of the increase, or $185,406, is the result of a shift of four teaching positions, currently funded by the state, to the local budget in an effort by Phipps to lessen the effects of a projected $1.2 million in state cuts to Beaufort County’s public schools.
Phipps said the county’s schools can likely absorb through attrition the loss of 15 teaching positions that would result from those budget cuts. But such a loss would likely mean a reduction in course offerings in the system’s schools.
He hoped to save four of those positions by shifting their cost to the local budget.
Phipps also asked the board to approve the addition of one administrative position at S.W. Snowden Elementary School. The new administrator would serve as an assistant principal and instructional coach at a cost of $42,000, plus $12,636 in benefits.
Board Chairman Robert Belcher questioned whether the school system could afford to increase its current expense budget by $592,150 when it possibly faces cuts in county appropriations to the schools and a more dire budget forecast next year.
“I think you’re going out on a limb,” he said.
Most of the other increases proposed in the current expense budget for 2010-2011 are increases in salaries and benefits that track Perdue’s recommendations in her budget for the state’s public schools.
The proposed budget also includes an expected $126,334, or 5 percent, increase in utility and energy costs.
The fate of some of Phipps’ requests likely will depend on whether budget writers in the General Assembly choose to withhold, for the second year in a row, state-shared corporate income-tax funds. Those funds are allocated to counties based on average daily membership at local public schools and used by counties to fund school capital expenses.
Beaufort County uses this money to pay a portion of the nearly $2.8 million in debt from a schools-construction program.
Last year, the state withheld $380,000 in state-shared corporate income-tax funds, and the board reluctantly agreed to return $246,000 to county coffers to help the county balance its budget.
An agreement reached by the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners and the school board last year calls for the two boards to “revisit” the issue if the state withholds the county’s share of corporate income-tax funds this year.
Phipps said his proposed capital-projects list is comprised primarily of those projects that are needed to preserve structural integrity of the county’s school buildings.
“Some of these things have been put on a wish list for five or six years,” he said.
The capital projects list approved by the school board includes $210,500 for technology upgrades; $100,000 to install a drainage system to prevent standing water around Northeast Elementary School; $94,000 for a new activity bus; $66,814 for roof repairs to S.W. Snowden Elementary School; $65,000 for the removal of two 10,000 -gallon underground fuel-storage tanks and the replacement of one above-ground fuel-storage tank; $38,528 for installation of a new roof on Building 1 at Chocowinity Primary School; and $23,000 for a new utility vehicle.
The list also includes two options for roof repairs to Washington High School — the installation of a new coating on the roof for an estimated cost of $750,000 or a less expensive option that would cost an estimated $391,560.
“I hate to spend $400,000 n something that would only last 10 years,” Belcher said. “My gut reaction is to go with the coating.”
The board voted to seek bids for both projects and make a final decision on repairs decision once bids are received.
In other business, the board:
• Approved field trip requests.
• Voted unanimously to comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act, a federal law also known as the “overtime law” that ensures wages are paid for all hours worked and that all overtime hours, overtime pay and collected unpaid overtime due is paid to wage earners. The vote was in response to a presentation by Joe Tkach, county schools athletics director, who told the board that questions had been raised by some educators about the payment of stipends to some school employees who serve as athletics coaches or assistant coaches. Recent changes in interpretations of the law would end stipends to some school employees who also serve as coaches and assistant coaches, Tkach said.
• Heard a presentation on testing and performance standards required by the federal No Child Left Behind and by the North Carolina Accountability System.