Board readies for spending cuts|Fails to take actionon cost-cutting committee recommendation

Published 8:54 pm Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Contributing Writer

Even as Beaufort County school leaders Monday prepared for expected budget cuts in the coming school year, they failed to take action on a recommendation from one of their committees that was intended to save money.
The Beaufort County Board of Education on Monday voted unanimously to change its reduction-in-force policy for licensed personnel, but it took no action on a recommendation from its Personnel and Curriculum Committee to suspend a scholarship program.
The reduction-in-force policy no longer gives priority to performance ratings and superintendent recommendations in determining which licensed employees to include in a reduction in force.
Instead, none of the factors — including performance, program enrollment, service in extra-duty positions, length of service, superintendent recommendations and other beneficial services provided by the employee — will be given priority in determining which jobs will be cut.
“The superintendent will make recommendations on the needs and best interests of the school system,” the policy now reads.
Beaufort County Schools Superintendent Don Phipps said that action by the board does not signal “that we are implementing a RIF procedure.”
The board is, instead “getting all of our ducks in a row” in case budget restraints lead to some job cuts in the coming school year, he said.
North Carolina’s education leaders have told Beaufort County public schools to prepare for at least $3.1 million in cuts — including the loss of some 58 positions — in next year’s budget as state legislators search for ways to close a budget shortfall that is expected to be at least $3.7 billion.
The school board also faces the possibility of cuts in county appropriations with the expiration of an agreement between Beaufort County and the local school system that guaranteed school funding.
Even as it faces these cuts, the board opted not to suspend a school program of awarding scholarships to local high-school graduates who want to become teachers.
The scholarship program, known as Grow Our Own, was intended to ensure a steady supply of new, licensed teachers for the school system.
Earlier this month, the board’s Personnel and Curriculum Committee voted to recommend that existing scholarships be continued but no new scholarships be awarded in the program until school finances and the economy improve.
During the committee’s discussion, some members questioned whether it was wise to spend money to send students to college to become teachers at a time that the school system is cutting positions.
Currently, seven college students are receiving scholarships of $6,000 a year.
In other business, the board voted 6-2 to participate in a policy manual customization program offered by the N.C. School Boards Association. The program will provide a year-long review of all policies in effect in Beaufort County Schools to ensure that they comply with state statutes and an update of new statutes enacted by the state Legislature. 
The cost of the program is $22,900, which can be paid in three installments from savings in the school system’s legal-services line item, Phipps told the board.
“Our day-to-day operations are contingent on us having good policies written,” Phipps said. “In the long run, it will save in terms of litigation costs.”
Board Chairman Robert Belcher and Vice Chairman F. Mac Hodges cast the dissenting votes.
Belcher had earlier said that even though the project is worthy of consideration, it was not a wise use of money at a time when the school board is facing possible state and local budget cuts.
In other action, the board:
• Discussed, but took no action on, a change in the Beaufort County Schools Student Dress Code. The change would allow students to wear T-shirts — designated as “spirit wear” — that contain school logos or school colors instead of collared shirts. These T-shirts would be allowed on days designated by school administrators as “school-spirit days.” Under the guidelines discussed by the board, such designated school-spirit days could not exceed one day a week. If subsequently approved by the board, the proposal would be an amendment to the Student Dress Code.
• Approved a request from P.S. Jones Middle School to set up an account for a fundraising project to build an athletics concessions building at the school.
• Approved budget amendments as presented by Laurie Modlin, executive director for finance and auxiliary services. 
• Approved field trips as follows: A trip to Greenville for the honor bands at Bath and Northeast elementary schools; a trip to Williamsburg, Va., for the Southside High School band; and a trip to Fort Pickett, Va., for the Washington High School Junior ROTC.
In other business, Belcher announced that the board’s meeting date and time has been changed to the third Tuesday in the month at 5:30 p.m. from the fourth Monday in the month at 7 p.m. to accommodate recent changes in the schedules of some board members.
Board member Cindy Winstead was absent from the meeting.