Schools prepare for budget cuts

Published 8:42 pm Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Staggered start times could save Beaufort County Schools roughly $100,000 by eliminating the use of nine buses. The Board of Education is considering its options to address a $2.56 million shortfall in the 2012-13 operating budget. (WDN Photo/Christ Prokos)

Public-school leaders on Monday began preparing for deep cuts in Beaufort County Schools’ operating budget by offering proposals that range from continued cuts in supply budgets to the elimination of teaching and other positions in an effort to plug a $2.56 million hole in BCS’s proposed 2012-2013 operating budget.

School officials had anticipated some $2.2 million in cuts in the money the local school system receives from the state, but they were “blindsided” by an anticipated $344,956 cut in so-called “low-wealth” funds that are designated for the state’s poorest school districts, according to BCS Superintendent Don Phipps.

Phipps and other school leaders on Monday gave the Beaufort County Board of Education its first look at the proposed operating and construction budgets for the county’s public schools for the 2012-2013 school year.

For the past two years as the school board wrestled with cuts in state and local appropriations, its members were warned that the coming fiscal year — when federal money allocated to schools under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act would be depleted — would resemble “falling off a cliff.”

On Monday, they were told the “cliff year is here.”

“We worked very hard to try to grow our fund balance to a difficult time,” Phipps said. “The difficult time is here.”

By cutting school and library supplies, reducing general-maintenance funds, eliminating positions through attrition, initiating a $1-per-mile charge for activity-bus use and appropriating $900,000 from savings, local school leaders identified $2.16 million in budget cuts for the coming fiscal year.

Board members were told that without an increase from the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners in the school system’s operating funds of at least $400,000, additional cuts would need to be made.

Those cuts could include the loss of jobs, including the possibility of laying off as many as 39 teacher assistants, converting some 12-month positions to 10-month positions and reducing teacher supplements, the board was told.

“I know it’s not a positive picture, but I wanted you to know what we’re dealing with,” Phipps said. “These cuts are real and they’re going to hurt.”

In addition to potential cuts presented by Phipps, board members were presented with a plan of potential changes in the school system’s transportation operations that could produce additional savings.

Some of those changes included staggering start times for some of the system’s schools and a more efficient pay system for school-bus drivers.

By staggering start times, the county’s schools could eliminate the use of nine buses and reap savings of about $100,000, according to Jerry Wynne, BCS’s director of transportation.

“We need to share as many buses as we can,” Wynne said. “The only way to do that is staggered bells, and that’s not very popular.”

In a related matter, the board met with Gwyn Roberson-McBride, director of nutrition services, to discuss changes with services offered for students at Beaufort County Early College High School.

BCS lost money operating the cafe at Beaufort County Community College to provide meals for BCECHS students housed there as well as BCCC faculty and staff, board members were told.

As a result, BCS has decided to cancel its contract with the college and is considering other options for providing meals to its students.