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Schools expect $5.8 million shortfall in 09-10

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By Kathryn Jacewicz, Staff writer

BOLIVIA—Brunswick County Schools is expecting a budget shortfall of nearly $5.8 million dollars for the 2009-2010 school year.

A shortfall was to be expected, as the state was asked to prepare its public schools budget with 3, 5 and 7 percent reduction options last month, which could cost about 50 local employees their jobs.

At the board of education’s budget retreat Tuesday, Superintendent Katie McGee said the preliminary budget for the 2009-2010 school year does not include details but should be looked at as a “thought process.”

“We’ve got some very, very difficult decisions that we’re going to have to make,” she said. “The budget that we will present to you today, our number one priority was not to interrupt [student] instruction.”

The district is expecting a total shortfall of $5,787,607 from state and local funds. Federal funding will increase in stimulus money for Title 1 and exceptional children programs, but the funding is limited in its use and may not be used to offset other shortfalls.

“With federal money, there are strings attached,” Freyja Cahill, executive financial officer, said.

State funding is projected to decrease $4,227,288. More than $1 million in planning allotment will be reduced, as the state is projecting 125 less kindergartners will start school this August.

“That’s a one time hit, but this is not a good time to have that hit because of the other things happening,” Cahill said.

The district’s budget also includes $3,159,081 less in state funds. Cahill said the district is preparing its budget expecting a 5 percent state reduction.

“It seems to be changing all the time, but the 5 percent seems to be what we’re hearing up until this point,” she said.

Local funding is estimated to decrease $1,560,319 based on revenue projections from the county.

The district is also expecting some major increases to the 2009-2010 budget. It will take about $2 million to open Cedar Grove Middle School and Town Creek Elementary School this summer, but to keep costs low; most of the employees will be transferred from current positions.

“At the same time we’re making cuts in some areas, we will be able to send some people to these new schools,” Cahill said.

Utilities, salary increases and health insurance are also expected to increase within the next year.

Salaries and benefits for Brunswick County School employees make up 82 percent of the district’s budget, and McGee said when making final decisions on where to take the reductions, it may come down to personnel or programs.

“Knowing that 75 percent of current expense budget is spent just on personnel, we’ve got some huge decisions in front of us,” she said. “It’s evident that the cuts have got to come from somewhere.”

McGee said with the loss of employees, the workload on the existing ones doubles.

“When you lose that amount of money, you’ve still got the same amount of work,” she said.

The district plans to transfer as many central office employees and teachers as possible in order to prevent personnel reductions. Positions employees leave, retire or do not receive renewed contracts will not be filled.

“That will be unavoidable, hopefully minimal,” Cahill said.

Funding for at risk programs will be eliminated next year.

“That’s half a million dollars,” Cahill said.

Services affected include after-school tutoring, school resource officer (SRO) funding, NovaNet online courses, the D.A.R.E. program and the 8th Grade Transition Academy.

Cahill said the SRO costs continue to escalate, and paying officers overtime for event security is an added cost.

“That is definitely an area that needs to be addressed immediately,” board member Scott Milligan said.

Faye Nelson, director of elementary education, said programs like summer school and NovaNet are services the district cannot do without.

“We’re going to prioritize what we have to have before we make those decisions,” she said.”

In addition to the at risk funding being cut, Brunswick Community College is asking Brunswick County Schools to pay a portion of their campus security costs, as the Early College High School is now located on the college’s campus. Salary for one employee is $33,000 per year.

The budget includes cost saving measures, such as initiating a summer work schedule, consisting of four 10-hour days for employees, travel reduction, employee cell phone issuance and a 5 percent budget reduction to all non-school administrative budgets, which reduces funds for office supplies and staff development, Cahill said.

CAPITAL OUTLAY

Cahill also told the board all funding for capital outlay projects have also been impacted, due to a decrease in revenues, lottery proceeds and ADM funds. The district began the 2009-2010 budget process wanting to plan for $7.1 million in renovations, but due to the shortfalls has scaled back to $2.1 million.

“With availability of stimulus funds and economic situation improving over time, administration looks forward to bringing to the board a continuation of the capital improvement plan,” Cahill wrote in a presentation to the board.