Sampson Independent

SCS officials talk county school funding

With the start of school just days away, Sampson County School officials are moving forward with spending plans, although financial matters are still up in the air.

During a Monday meeting for the Board of Education, the members unanimously approved a $81.86 million budget resolution for the 2018-2019 school period. The money is coming from state funds ($55.89 million); local dollars ($11.66 million); federal funds ($6.28 million); capital outlay ($2.04 million); and child nutrition ($5.98 million). Totals are based on estimates.

Before the meeting, Finance Officer Stephen Britt made a report to the board during a work session. Some of the matters included restrictions on flexibility when it comes to transferring state funds to different sections of the budget.

“The state’s going to talk about how they’re spending more money and getting more funding this year than last year,” Britt said. “That is true, however, the flip side of that is because of restrictions, we have less discretionary spending than what we had in the past.

“Each year, I keep using the analogy that it’s like a vice that tightens up,” Britt said. “Each year, it’s another turn and it squeezes out the flexibility and discretionary spending.”

One of the examples mentioned was spending for Academically and Intellectually Gifted (AIG) program. In the past, Britt explained how moving funds to other areas allowed the district to save money. With the restrictions Britt said they had to cut back on one AIG position — something they’ve prepared for about two years, so a job was not cut.

“Prior to the restrictions coming, we had seven AIG teachers here that were fully funded,” Britt said. “Plus, AIG had funds to buy supplies and keep up with iPads and technology. It was a fully funded program. With the new restrictions imposed we had to cut back to six AIG teachers. Even with the less restrictions and less teachers, the budget is very tight. I don’t know if they’re going to be able to do everything they’ve done in the past.

“From the state side, they saw school systems transferring money out of AIG and thought perhaps they were not using those funds to support AIG, but in reality, we were making it work and using the flexibility to be more efficient,” Britt said.

Britt said the new restriction process is going to be less efficient, with less teachers as a result. A few years ago, the district lost flexibility with funding for teacher assistants too. He said it’s another example of how it hurts schools, before telling the board about a situation where a principal wanted to use funds for something else.

“The intention is to help LEAs or those particular programs, but in reality, they have the exact opposite,” Britt said.

Board chairman Tim Register shared the same feelings.

“They talk local control, but every year they take back local control and local decision making at the state level, which is detrimental to the county system,” Register said. “Decisions should be made closest to where the money is spent and they’re taking that away from us.”

With state funding, Britt added that cuts are expected in the central office administration, which means that local dollars will have to fill the void. In the budget, the total amount of central office administration funding is listed at more than $648,000.

Funding for children with special needs is expected to drop by more than $40,000 — bringing the total to $3.91 million.

There were some increases tied to salaries on the budget. It involved teachers and principals, but Britt stressed his concerns about restrictions.

“The state’s going to talk about how they’re spending more money and getting more funding this year than last year,” Britt said. “That is true, however, the flip side of that is because of restrictions, we have less discretionary spending than what we had in the past.”

During the presentation, Britt said the budget is a working documents that will continue to change during the year while speaking to board members about

Under local expenses, the district is expecting a grant matching program for School Resource Officers (SRO) and mental health efforts, which totals $100,000. This allows Sampson Schools to hire two additional SROs in the district. The one-year grant will automatically renew if the district meets the guidelines,

To help cover expected deficits, more than $255,000 was used from fund balance. Some of the funds to cover cuts for central administration and regarding a civil rights audit, which was used to make sure buildings were ADA (Americans with Disability) compliant.

Register and board members also discussed the NC Pre-K Partnership program, which is operating at a loss of about $200,000. Superintendent Dr. Eric Bracy is expected to speak with officials about the matter and come up with options to decrease costs.

Budget matters also involved capital outlay projects which were also approved. It includes a total of more than $2 million for the 2018-2019 school year from new and carryover funds. Some of the needs on the list include a track project at Hobbton High School, roof replacements, playgrounds, and a field house project at Midway High School. The district is also working to replace the bus garage roof and made a request for Clinton City Schools to share the cost since the building is shared by both systems.

With House Bill 13 legislation requiring districts to have a set number of students in K-3 classrooms, this is forcing the district to add mobile units in the future. It’s estimated that the district would need a total of 15.

“We’re not happy about having to have mobile units because of changes in the state law,” Register said. “We’re still pursuing every space that we can within the buildings to try to stop putting mobile units back on school property.”

There’s currently one mobile unit budgeted at $92,000 hot the HB 13 compliance.

“We’re going to wait as long as we can to see if there’s any rescue from Raleigh on this issue,” Register said. “We don’t want to go back to the days of having more mobile units outside.”

When it comes to finances and making adjustments in classrooms, Register said it’s not going to solve a long-term need for the county school system when it comes to capital outlay money.

“While we’re thankful for every dollar that the county gives us, at some point somebody’s got to be realistic and understand that you can’t keep giving us enough money just to cover a needed repair and there’s not really any capital improvement. That’s where we are now. The days of principals being able to say I need that this school or this to enhance my program are pretty much gone.”

School Board members from Sampson County Schools review documents during a recent meeting. Board members from Sampson County Schools review documents during a recent meeting.
Concerns raised over flexible spending

By Chase Jordan

Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.