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‘Impressive’ proposal

WINDSOR – Impressive.

That one word was linked to different agendas here yesterday (Monday) afternoon where the Bertie Board of Education presented their 2007-08 budget proposal to the county commissioners during a joint meeting held at the new, yet to be opened Bertie Middle School.

In what was hailed as a simple, no nonsense budget, that proposal, one that blended projected increases with equal amounts of cuts, was impressive. Equally as impressive was the fact that the $27.63 million budget does not use any appropriated fund balance.

Apparently, Board of Commissioners Chairman Rick Harrell was so impressed with the budget proposal, as well as the sense of urgency by the school board to better serve the children of Bertie County, that he suggested adding another $11,000 to the $2.49 million the budget calls for in current expense funding from the county.

Adding to the impressive theme was an eye-catching tour of the new Bertie Middle School.

But the main focus of the meeting was the 07-08 budget. It was the same message sent on Thursday of last week where Superintendent Dr. Michael Priddy and School Board Chairman Rickey Freeman sat down with the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald and other area media to explain their budget proposal. As they did during Monday’s joint meeting with the commissioners, both men said the budget was designed to put more money into the classrooms as well as delivering a message of confidence to the taxpaying citizens.

“This is a plain, common sense budget that was made to build credibility and confidence,” Dr. Priddy said. “It also creates a sense of urgency, one that starts with the board of education. The future depends on the school system delivering programs that will help our children in their adult lives. We’re not doing that now.”

“Our children’s future depends on this (budget),” Freeman noted. “We’ve been too complacent. Our priority is to be a board that’s proactive instead of reactive. We are confident this budget will move us in the right direction.”

The proposed budget for next year is built on $27.63 million in revenues. The lion’s share of that money comes from state appropriations – $16.24 million on planning allotments and $3.15 million in Small Schools, Low Wealth District and DSSF funds. Another $2.14 million comes from federal allocations.

The school board’s budget asks for $2,489,300 in current expense funds from the county. That’s a 10 percent hike over what the county is funding in the current 2006-07 budget.

“The commissioners have generously increased our budget by 10 percent over the last few years and we’re hoping they will continue that trend,” Dr. Priddy said.

The proposal also calls for $375,000 from the county in capital outlay. That figure is unchanged from previous year’s requests.

At the heart of the budget is over $500,000 of program improvements, money that Dr. Priddy said will “touch the students.” The proposal calls for $144,500 in local funds to implement a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) program at Bertie High School. Another $56,405 is needed to continue AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), an in-school academic support program, while $65,000 is earmarked for Virtual Public School, an internet based curriculum.

To aid in the recruitment and retention of teachers, Dr. Priddy proposes $48,000 is needed.

The budget proposal does call for a newly created position as Dr. Priddy said a Director of Operations (maintenance, transportation, food service and emergency management) is badly needed. That job calls for a $81,602 annual salary.

While the budget proposes the need for increasing revenues in some areas, Dr. Priddy and the Central Office finance staff, with the school board’s approval, counteracted those positives with negatives. The budget proposes cuts in excess of three-quarters of a million dollars ($754,576). Cuts in state funds ($423,166) are the result of declining student enrollment coupled with the consolidation of two middle schools into one.

Administrative cuts amount to $331,410. The bulk (roughly $236,150) of those cuts comes with downsizing the Central Office staff by four positions, including not replacing Assistant Superintendent Nick Shook who is retiring at the end of the current school year. The proposed budget also calls for a $60,000 reduction in attorney’s fees.

Following Monday’s budget proposal, given by Bertie Schools Finance Officer Pearline Bunch, Harrell voice his pleasure.

“I am very impressed with this budget,” he said. “It’s a very reasonable proposal. It put things in place that are very exciting for our children and our teachers. I suggest that we round-up your request to $2.5 million in local funds.”

That suggestion was not voted upon by the commissioners. They did say they would discuss the school board’s proposal during their upcoming budget workshops.”

“What I’m happy to see is a budget proposal that we can finance instead of one that’s way out of the ballpark,” said Commissioner Wallace Perry.