GCPS requests $50,000 budget increase

Published 3:18 pm Monday, May 9, 2011

GATESVILLE – As public school systems across North Carolina brace in anticipation of deep budget cuts at the state level, most are turning to local government to help fill the expected void.

Gates County Public Schools (GCPS) is doing exactly that.

In making her 2011-12 budget pitch here last week at the monthly meeting of the county’s Board of Commissioners, GCPS Superintendent Dr. Zenobia Smallwood requested an increase of $50,000 over last year’s local funding. That request was for a county appropriation of $2,617,079. Last year, the county appropriated $2,567,079 in local funding.

“We’ve already made many reductions with this budget to keep the costs at a minimum,” Dr. Smallwood said. “However, due to the state’s proposed ten percent budget cut and the state call for a return of discretionary funding, I need to outline some things that will impact our local budget as a result of the proposed state budget cuts.

One of the biggest impacts is the return of discretionary funds.

“Last year we returned approximately $387,000 to the state. We’re estimating returning a little over $400,000 this year,” Dr. Smallwood said. “When you add this on top of a ten percent reduction in the state budget, this will greatly impact our instructional program and impact our instructional positions.”

In addition to the cuts and return of discretionary funds, Dr. Smallwood noted rising costs in other areas. Those included:

Retirement benefits rate increasing from 10.51 % to 11.62% per eligible employee;

A hike in health insurance rates, from $4,929 annually per employee to $5,280;

Local districts having to fund worker’s compensation insurance for state-paid employees (approximately $110,000 per year); and

The state shifting the burden of purchasing school buses ($85,000 each) to the school district. Smallwood noted that GCPS does not anticipate having to purchase any new buses during the upcoming 2011-12 year.

Another new cost-saving measure at the state level, one that Dr. Smallwood just recently learned, was the possible shift of textbook purchases to the local school districts.

Meanwhile, the state budget cuts will also have an impact on the number of classroom instructors. Dr. Smallwood said the loss of personnel that have help guide the educational process of the county’s school-age children will translate into bigger class sizes.

“We pride ourselves that our class sizes have been small, and that fact has served us well over the years,” Dr, Smallwood said.

The proposed new budget includes no raises for school system employees, as has been the same case over the last three years.

“We know this is not a good time to ask for raises because no one can afford them right now,” Dr. Smallwood noted.

Another budget line item expected to increase is the cost of energy and fuel.

“Please note that we’re doing everything humanly possible to economize the use of fuel,” Dr. Smallwood said. “We have consolidated bus routes; we have eliminated bus routes; we’re also watching the thermostats very closely in all of our facilities.”

Stimulus funding used in the past to help fill the void in budget shortfalls will not be provided for the upcoming school year, Smallwood said.

To help with the loss of state funds, Smallwood said GCPS is prepared to use nearly $228,000 of its fund balance.

“We keep coming to you to help provide educational funding for our children here in Gates County,” Dr. Smallwood said. “You have, in the past, provided funds that have helped our children be successful not only here in the county, but in the state, the nation and globally.”

The commissioners and county manager will now study the schools’ budget request as they hold workshops in advance of preparing their 2011-12 local government budget.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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