Financial woes beset school district

Published 7:59 am Saturday, July 24, 2010

WINDSOR – The financial information for Bertie County Schools isn’t good.

Tuesday night, the Bertie County Board of Education learned their fund balance had taken a hit of nearly $700,000 last year.

An audible groan could be heard from board members and the audience when Kay Fulp, who had been hired by the board as a consultant in the finance office, reported that the fund balance had been reduced by such a drastic figure.

Fulp presented an overview of the 2009-10 expenditures for the school system in the state, local and federal categories. She did not include capital outlay or child nutrition in the overview.

The expenditures for the district included nearly $20 million in state funding, $5.6 million in local funding and $4.8 million in federal funding.

Fulp said that the school district’s salaries and related expenditures accounted for approximately 78 percent of the budget.

“Based on my experience, schools average about 85-90 percent,” she said.

“That may explain why nine percent of the budget is contracted services.”

She said the district spent quite a bit of money on contracted services for remediation, but added that if you totaled the salaries and contracted services, it would reach about 86 percent of the budget, which was more in line with other districts as far as money spent on salaries.

The summary provided by Fulp lumped money spent into large categories, including contracted services, fuel, electricity, supplies, worker’s compensation and insurance items as well as others.

She said the supplies line item, which accounted for roughly $2.36 million, included instructional supplies as well as those used by maintenance.

Board member Pamela Chamblee asked if transportation costs were in the red and Fulp said the district spent $200,000 in local funds over the state allotment.

Chamblee asked didn’t that mean the line item was in the red, but Fulp said the money spent from local sources was budgeted, so it was not.

Board Chair Gloria Lee asked how the money spent lined up with what was actually budgeted. Fulp said they lined up exactly because the board approved budget amendments at the end of the year to make them match up.

Vice Chair Alton Parker then asked, “In the end, we had to dip into fund balance to cover the expenditures, is that correct?”

It was then Fulp announced that district had spent $692,000 of fund balance. She said the undesignated fund balance coming into the year was $790,000.

“Looking at the numbers – $790,000 vs. $692,000 – can you give us a ballpark figure of what fund balance will look like once the auditors close out the books on last year,” board member Rickey Freeman asked.

Fulp said between $100,000 and $150,000. She said that meant the school system’s budget this year should designate no fund balance to balance it.

Parker asked if the school district did a good job of staying within budget constraints.

Fulp answered by saying the state budget was cut considerable last year.

“Did you know that there were no funds for clerical or custodians,” she asked.

Parker and Chamblee each answered that they didn’t know.

Fulp said the district had been receiving $1.3 million for salaries for those positions, but it was cut to $20,000 to $30,000 last year.

“What you got in place of it was federal stabilization funds, but that didn’t cover it all,” she said.

Fulp also said the school district had to return $448,515 last year to the state due to a requirement by the North Carolina General Assembly.

“That’s a lot of money for a small county,” she said.

Fulp then answered Parker’s question by saying, “You can always do better budgeting and more communication. That can be done everywhere.”

She said when the district had such drastic cuts, they had to either “send people home” or find the money from other funds to pay them.

“We could cut programs and not people, correct,” Chamblee asked.

Fulp said it was difficult to make a large impact on the budget without cutting jobs, but it was possible.

Chamblee then asked Fulp if the school district could afford the $28,000 per month it would spend on Connect Bertie.

“Let me answer you this way,” Fulp said. “You can pay $28,000 per month for that or you can pay seven teachers or 14 Teacher Assistants. That’s your choice.”

Parker then asked about three long-standing vacancies in the school district. Those are Finance Officer, Exceptional Children’s Director and Child Nutrition Director.

“Even with money being short, are those not positions that need to be staffed,” he asked.

“In my opinion, yes,” Fulp said. “A good EC Director will save you money down the road.”

The discussion then turned to the $2.7 million spent in contracted services.

Fulp provided a list of major expenditures covering just under $2.1 million of the services. She said those were the major contracts for the board.

Six of the contracts were more than $100,000. They included contracts with Careworks, One Economy, Visiting International Faculty, the Bertie County Sheriff’s Office, Schwartz & Shaw and Tharrington Smith.

Careworks provides services for exceptional children in the county.

One Economy ($356,807) operates the Hive, which houses some of the school district’s alternative students while the Visiting International Faculty ($184,650) program provides teachers and simply receives state funding for teachers.

The contract with the Bertie County Sheriff’s Office for $100,916 is for School Resource Officers at Bertie High School and Bertie Middle School while both Schwartz & Shaw ($125,724) and Tharrington Smith ($171,730) are law firms.

Board members agreed to take a long look at contracted services on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week when they meet in work sessions. The Tuesday meeting will begin at 9 a.m. and will be to discuss personnel then hold a work session.

Wednesday’s meeting will begin at 9 a.m. and is for a work session.