Boards talk school funding

Published 5:37 pm Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Staff Writer

Money — or the lack thereof — was on the minds of members of the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners or the Beaufort County Board of Education when the two groups met Monday night.
The commissioners, meanwhile, were scheduled to continue their 2010-2011 budget discussions at a workshop the next night.
The budget recommended by County Manager Paul Spruill and presented to the commissioners last week includes $13.9 million in funding for the Beaufort County Schools — an increase of $592,150 — as required by an agreement approved by the commissioners and school board in 2007.
County appropriations of $12.4 million constitute the bulk of the school system’s operations budget of $13.2 million and all of its $1.5 million capital-outlay budget.
Like other governmental entities, the two boards are dealing with the fallout from the recent downturn in the economy and the specter of additional funding cuts by the state Legislature as its members struggle to plug an $800 million shortfall in the state’s budget.
The public schools are preparing for tight times ahead by building their savings to help them address the loss of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, expected to occur after the 2010-2011 fiscal year, the commissioners were told.
Schools Superintendent Don Phipps said he had hoped to include new money for four teaching positions and one administrative position in the school system’s operations budget for 2010-2011, but he opted instead to use that money to continue to build the system’s savings — projected to be at $1.4 million to $1.5 million at the end of the current school year, barring any unforeseen needs.
“We want to be able to weather the storm that we’re facing in 2011-2012,” Phipps told the commissioners. “We’re trying to be fiscally responsible.”
Unlike other school systems across the state, the Beaufort County school system has been able to avoid layoffs by eliminating positions through attrition, including resignations and retirements, the commissioners were told.
But if the state or federal government doesn’t replace lost stimulus funds in 2011-2012, the school system will be faced with eliminating some employees.
“After this coming year, if someone doesn’t come in on a white horse, we most probably will have to send real bodies home,” said school board Chairman Robert Belcher. “Retirements and resignations aren’t going to take care of it. We’ll have to send Beaufort County citizens home.”
Said Phipps, “We’re looking for a miracle.”
The two boards also discussed the school’s 2010-2011 capital-outlay budget that includes two options for installation of a new roof at Washington High School. The fates of other projects on the list depend, to a great extent, on which option the school board chooses — repainting the roof at an estimated cost of $391,560 or recoating the roof at an estimated cost of $750,000.
Under a previously approved schedule, the schools will receive bids on the project May 20 and decide May 24 on a course of action. Under the school board’s schedule, work could start June 10 and could be completed by the time school starts later this summer.
Monday night, county leaders asked to be involved in that decision.
“This one item will change the face of this capital budget,” Spruill said. “The county commissioners would like to become educated on how the bids come in.”
Commissioner Hood Richardson questioned whether the school board could make an informed decision on the project in such a short period of time.
“This is a complex, complicated thing,” he said. “There is no board that can make a decision that quickly.”
In other business: 
• The commissioners unanimously voted to release $375,766.50 in funds to the schools to complete the system’s 2009-2010 capital-expense budget.
• The commissioners heard a presentation from Phipps and Patrick Abele, executive director for learning services for Beaufort County Schools, on school accountability and testing requirements under the federal No Child Left Behind legislation and the N.C. Accountability System, also known as the ABC’s.
The school board and county commissioners are scheduled to meet later this year to address any funding issues that result from legislative action this summer.
All members of each board attended Monday’s meeting.