Uncertain waters ahead

Published 1:35 pm Friday, December 13, 2019

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Details about financial challenges facing Polk County Schools presents at BOE meeting


From Staff Reports

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At its regular monthly meeting at Stearns Education Center, the board received the results of its annual external audit for the 2018-2019 fiscal year. Although the district received a clean audit for its financial practices and accounting, Mike Wike of Anderson, Smith & Wike spoke to the board about concerns regarding the system’s declining fund balance.

In recent years, significant increases in costs and decreases in funding from state and federal sources have forced the district to tap into its fund balance to compensate for budget shortfalls. Wike acknowledged that school systems across the state are experiencing similar issues, facing a sharp rise in personnel costs with no additional funding to address teachers and staff employed with federal or local funds.


Wike affirmed the district’s efforts to reduce expenses and make changes where possible, but made it clear that the district needs to find ways to reverse the current trend and grow its fund balance.  

Polk County Schools Superintendent Aaron Greene commented that the district has been working to improve its financial position by making budget cuts and personnel reductions for the last two years. Greene also noted that given the nature of public school funding, districts do not know about cost increases or cuts coming from the North Carolina Legislature until after the beginning of their fiscal year, making budgeting and projecting losses extremely difficult. He cited an example of this uncertainty, explaining that a final school budget for the current fiscal year has not been approved by state government even though the district is almost halfway through the year. Greene also reminded the board that the district will also have to address accrued debt in food service operations.

Greene thanked Polk County commissioners and County Manager Marche Pittman for their continued support of students and schools and their willingness to work with the district to address these needs and issues, but commented that more financial assistance will be needed if Polk County Schools is to continue supporting students and perform among the top school districts in the state.

In other action at the meeting:

• The board elected officers for 2020, with Rick Covil continuing as chairman and member Sherry Page as vice-chairman.

• Citing recent comments and apparent opposition from state legislators to relinquish control of school calendar development to local boards of education, Greene recommended the board not pursue the calendar options presented at last month’s meeting for the 2020-21 school year. The new calendar would allow students to finish exams before the holiday break and facilitate alignment with community college calendars for increased student access to college courses.

• The Polk Central Elementary Sign Language Club, an afterschool club supported by a Polk County Community Foundation grant, shared a holiday song with the board by using sign language they learned in the district’s PEAK After School program. The board also recognized the student artists whose work was selected to be used as the official 2019 Polk County Schools Holiday Cards.

• Students who participated in the Water Stewardship summer program led by Polk County Middle School teachers Elisa Flynn and Stephanie Luedi gave a presentation on what they experienced and learned. The program was funded by a Polk County Community Foundation grant.

• Accountability Director Dave Scherping provide the board with an update on the fall semester testing schedule, with Polk Early College students being assessed in the coming weeks and Polk High students taking exams in mid-January.

• Curriculum and Instruction Director Ronette Dill gave a presentation on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) and explained the importance of the work Polk County Schools is doing to address the social and emotional needs of students.

• The board joined other education boards around the state in adopting a resolution calling for the release of more than $750 million in fines and forfeitures monies that were designated for distribution to public schools that have been held by state legislators for more than a decade.

• The board selected Building Clarity as its preliminary engineering partner to address the HVAC upgrades needed at Polk County High School through a “design-build” process.

• The Board recognized the Polk County Schools Transportation Department and thanked them for their hard work and dedication.