County schools weigh staffing cuts, possible Ed Tech closure

Published 8:41 am Saturday, June 1, 2019

A $1.9 million budget shortfall has the Beaufort County Board of Education looking at positions and facilities for potential cuts, including a possible redesign of the school system’s alternative learning program at the Beaufort County Ed Tech Center. The board held a special called meeting Thursday to consider its options for balancing the budget.

On the staffing side, Beaufort County Schools Superintendent Matthew Cheeseman said that eight time-limited positions, typically teacher assistants, would not be renewed for the 2019-20 school year. Add to that 13 teacher positions that will be vacated at the end of the year due to retirements and transfers, and that accounts for approximately $980,000 of the shortfall, or 21 positions.

“The school board has been challenged with what to do with the other $1 million of need,” Cheeseman said. “The board is looking at the Ed Tech Center. That seems to be a conversation that has been had many years between the board and county commissioners. So right now, we’re looking at a potential redesign of our alternative learning program and a potential closing of Ed Tech.”

While Cheeseman noted that conversations regarding a potential closure are still in their infancy and would require extensive community input, the Board of Education has tasked him with bringing options for the alternative learning program to the June 11 board meeting. Possibilities include relocation to another campus or splitting the program among multiple campuses.

“We have about 80 students involved in it right now,” Cheeseman said of the program. “Principal Victoria Hamill does a superb job of working with extraordinary faculty who work in a pathway program for students who may otherwise not have other options. Our children who go there graduate from that school, and they lead quality lives. Unfortunately, when you’re trying to accommodate a $1 million shortfall, you do have to look at areas that would impact the least amount of students and, unfortunately, Ed Tech would be the least amount of students.”

As to the employees at the Ed Tech Center, Cheeseman said there are positions throughout the district that most, if not all, of the employees could transition into.

Originally, the school system requested $17.5 million for its local operational budget from the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners, a $2 million increase from last year. Driving that $2 million requested increase are the following factors:

  • $439,876 for personnel costs, which includes an anticipated 3% increase in retirement and health insurance costs.
  • $125,046 in required payments to charter schools, which receive approximately 6.21% of all local appropriations.
  • An additional $126,000 for supplies and materials.
  • A projected $378,000 increase in fuel costs.
  • $480,731 in projected adjustments in state allotments, most of which have not been changed to reflect possible salary and benefit increases.
  • A $424,000 fund balance appropriation.

Cheeseman said that the budget is the result of “zero-based budgeting,” which means that every line item in the budget has to be justified each year. Despite the increase not being funded, he said he is appreciative for the $15 million commissioners have allocated.

“We’re looking at every single line item of what we can cut out and still provide a world-class education and a great working environment,” Cheeseman said. “I’m a little disappointed where we are and what was proposed to us. You begin, as a school system, to sometimes feel stuck in the middle between what state legislators are asking county commissioners to do and the county advising the board to lobby with state legislators to get it fixed.”

At a May 23 budget workshop, commissioners moved $179,000 for the school system’s capital appropriation to its local current expense appropriation to cover a 2% cost of living increase for school system employees. This left the $1.9 million remainder.

The county budget states, “The recommended budget holds the funding support for the Beaufort County School System to the FY 18-19 funding level due to the timing of receipt of the School’s budget request. Any changes to the recommended funding will need to be addressed by the Board during budget workshops.”

County Manager Brian Alligood, meanwhile pointed out that the county doesn’t always have the resources to make up for shortfalls in state funding.

“The challenge is, with the average daily membership continuing to fall off, the ADM drives state funding,” Alligood said. “The board of commissioners doesn’t necessarily have the resources to backfill state funding.”

Cheeseman and Alligood both agreed that the county and the school system would benefit from a joint education steering committee, which would consist of members from both boards. Meeting quarterly, the purpose would be to foster better communication between the two boards and keep commissioners in the loop on the school system’s financial situation.

The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners will hold its public hearing on the 2019-20 county budget at 5:30 p.m. on Monday.