Polk to give $100k more to schools

Published 9:35 am Thursday, June 9, 2011

State shortfall threatens preschool funds
Polk County commissioners agreed this week to find another $100,000 to help fund next year’s More-at-Four Preschool program.
Polk County Schools Superintendent Bill Miller asked commissioners for the additional money during the county’s meeting Monday, June 6 at the Saluda School. The county previously agreed to give the school system an additional $300,000 in next year’s budget as a result of other state budget cuts.
Miller also told commissioners that the school system is looking at an additional loss of $550,000 for the 2012-13 budget because of state cuts and warned that even more funding will be needed from the county in future years. It is expected that the county may have to fund an additional $200,000 to $300,000 in fiscal year 2012-13 because $550,000 of one-time stimulus money has been budgeted for 2011-12 to cover the state budget cuts. The stimulus money will not be available in future years.
Miller said Polk County’s More-at-Four Preschool program serves approximately 150 preschool students and has been in place for 10 years. Of the county’s students, 80 percent participate in the preschool program. Classrooms are located at each school with certified teachers and teacher assistants, offering students an additional year of school, Miller said.
The North Carolina legislature is currently considering a massive restructuring and reduction of the More-at-Four program, which offers funding for working families. Miller said the program funding is in jeopardy and the school system would like to tell parents whether they can enroll their children in preschool next year.
“We have parents all over the county wondering about their 4-year-old (next year),” Miller said. “We are kind of stuck in limbo. It’s become a difficult situation for our parents and for us.”
The school system plans to use Title 1 funding to help cover a possible $250,000 cut in funding and is asking the county for another $100,000.
The preschool budget has also been reduced by one classroom next year. A teacher is retiring and Miller said the teacher will not be replaced, meaning next year there will be eight preschool classrooms compared to nine classrooms this year. Next year there will be three classrooms at Forbes Preschool/ Tryon Elementary, three at Polk Central and one each at Saluda and Sunny View.
The Head Start program contributes more than $600,000 to the county’s preschool program to fund low-income students’ tuition. Miller said normally Head Start funding also allows qualifying 3-year-olds to attend preschool for two years, but next year Polk County will first focus on 4-year-olds.
The program is also funded partially by parents, who pay $65 per week for tuition. The total Polk County School preschool program costs $1.2 million, but Miller said with cuts next year, the program will be $1 million.
“The Polk County Board of Education considers the pre-school program an essential component of our student achievement,” said Miller. “This extra year of learning helps the school system work toward its goal of [having] all students on grade level by the end of the third grade.”
Miller said he and the school board credit Polk County’s high state ranking in test scores to having a preschool program. Out of 115 school systems in North Carolina, Polk County ranks in the top five in third through eighth grades in reading and math testing. Polk County ranks first in the state in fourth grade math scores and second in the state in fourth-grade reading, fifth-grade math, sixth-grade reading and eighth-grade reading.
Commissioners came to a consensus they will provide the $100,000, but they have not yet agreed on where the funding will come from. Polk County Manager Ryan Whitson recommended the funding come from several different budget line items for next year. Whitson said he could take $10,000 from the Lake Adger Dam repairs, $30,000 from contingency, $50 from fuel contingency and $10,000 from either the economic development grant budget or another $10,000 from fuel contingency.
Commissioners Ted Owens and Tom Pack expressed concern about taking funding from the economic development department. Pack said he’d prefer to take the $100,000 out of the fund balance.
Commissioners Ray Gasperson, Renée McDermott and Cindy Walker said they’d prefer to go with Whitson’s recommendation.
The county will hold a budget public hearing on Monday, June 13 at 7 p.m. in the Womack building in Columbus. Commissioners will have the opportunity to make changes to the budget prior to adopting the final budget on June 20. The new fiscal year will begin on July 1.

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