Polk Schools expects $1.4M cut; plans to ask county for $300k

Published 5:07 pm Thursday, January 27, 2011

Polk County Schools is planning to ask the county for $300,000 to help make up the shortfall resulting from an expected state funding cut of approximately $1.4 million next year.
Polk superintendent Bill Miller told county commissioners Monday, Jan. 24 about the school’s predictions for next year.
Miller said there is no way to know for sure exactly what the state will cut, but the state has asked all state agencies to produce budgets with 5 and 10 percent reductions.
“The common sense part I’m using is we all know North Carolina is about 15 percent short, so I have enough common sense to know that if they cut us 7 to 9 percent, they are going to have to cut other agencies higher,” Miller said.
Miller presented the county a budget prediction including cuts averaging 10 percent.
The school system has some reserve funds that can make up part of the shortfall and plans to cut next year’s budget by approximately $150,000.
Miller said the school could use $548,260 from leftover federal stimulus money, $300,000 from the school’s fund balance, $300,000 from the county, $150,000 worth of budget reductions and unknown funding from the lottery to make up the shortfall.
“By combining all those funds we feel like we can get to [the required budget] number if you could give us $300k,” said Miller.
Miller said he hopes the $150,000 cuts in next year’s budget won’t result in program or major teacher reductions, because two teachers are leaving this year and the school system does not plan to replace them.
Miller said unfortunately the stimulus money was a one-time allotment that has to be used by 2012 or the school has to give it back. The school system also cannot continue to use its fund balance to cover shortfalls year after year, he said.
The state initially recommended that schools cut their teacher assistant budgets by 75 percent, which Miller said would be “devastating” for Polk County.
“There would almost be no way locally to make that up if that 75 percent were to stand,” Miller said. “Everyone knows you can’t run a first grade without some assistance.”
“If you’ve ever been to a first grade, think about doing that on your own,” Miller said. “If some are in the bathroom, who is with the rest of them? It would be devastating to us.”
Polk County Schools has assistant teachers in kindergarten, first and second grades currently.
At a 25 percent reduction in teacher assistants, Polk Schools would have to reduce staff by $300,000. A 10 percent reduction in teachers would mean a reduction of $467,000, or the equivalent of eight or nine teachers at Polk County. A 10 percent reduction in institutional support (library, guidance, etc.) would equal $61,852.
Other programs for which the state is recommending cuts include custodial/clerical staff, assistant principals and small schools. A 10-percent cut in assistant principals would equal $38,586 and a 20-percent reduction in its small schools program would mean a $250,000 reduction.
Polk County commissioners seemed in favor of helping the school system next year. Polk County’s new budget year will begin July 1.
Commissioners have discussed for the past couple of years the potential for having to fund the school system more locally because of state budget shortfalls.
The county currently budgets $4,547,054 for the school system. With another $300,000, the county would be funding Polk County Schools more than $4,847,000.
Polk County Schools’ total budget is approximately $26 million, which includes federal and state funding, grants and local funding. The state normally funds the school approximately $16 million annually.
Polk County has 2,400 students plus 152 enrolled in pre-school. Current facilities and building have no major needs in the near future, Miller said.
State and national test performance by Polk students remains high. Miller said for the most part Polk County Schools has been immune to state cuts the past couple of years, with all programming still in place.
For the last 12 years, Polk County has been recognized as one of the top 10 schools in the state for low drop-out rates.
Miller and commissioners also discussed this week the uncertainty of future funding for programs such as “More at Four” for preschools and the virtual early college. Miller seemed optimistic that grants will hopefully continue to fund the virtual early college.
Polk County preschools are funded through some federal dollars, More at Four funding, Head Start, Title 1 and parents who pay, Miller said.
Miller said there has been talk at the state level about cutting some of the More at Four program, but he doesn’t know anything for certain.
“We receive a certain number of slots and they could say we are giving you less slots,” Miller said. “That would be a tremendous blow. That’s a tremendous advantage to us and our schools.”
Commissioners talked about how fortunate Polk residents are to have such a great school system. They commended Miller and his staff on being able to find money to help offset the possible state shortfall next year.

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