HCPS officials lobby for funding

Published 8:22 am Tuesday, June 7, 2011

WINTON – The lobbying effort is underway as Hertford County officials edge closer to adopting a new budget for fiscal year 2011-12.

Facing huge cuts from the state, one local entity seeking additional funds from the county is Hertford County Public Schools (HCPS).

On Monday morning at their regularly scheduled meeting, the Hertford County Board of Commissioners heard from HCPS officials as they made one final plea to have their local budget increased to save jobs.

HCPS Superintendent Dr. John Fahey told the commissioners that the local school system was facing as much as a $2.67 million deficit from state funding when the budget process began to take shape back in the spring.

“As we continue to follow the state House and Senate budget, that number keeps changing; we’re waiting, as are you, on a final number,” Dr. Fahey said, referencing the state budget, which was approved this past weekend by the NC House and Senate and currently sits on the Governor’s desk awaiting her signature.

“The latest numbers show us with a $1.9 million shortfall from the state; that number could be as low as $1.5 million,” Dr. Fahey stated.

To help offset the state cutbacks, Dr. Fahey said HCPS was using $1.2 million of its fund balance for the 2011-12 fiscal year as well as $700,000 in federal stimulus funding that the school system had saved.

“All of that, our fund balance and the $700,000 of stimulus funds, will be placed in our operating budget for 2011-12 in an attempt to save teachers and support for our classrooms,” he noted. “Our school board wants to keep classes at an appropriate size to promote learning and to keep teachers in our classrooms. They give me the guidance to make sure I do not make cuts in those areas.”

He continued, “Historically we’ve been cutting everything we can with the exception of employees and now we’re down to the bottom where there’s not much more that I can cut because about 80 percent of our money goes to pay for staffing.”

Dr. Fahey said cuts have been made in the Central Office staff – losing one assistant superintendent and one director of curriculum with two additional cuts planned this summer. From a non-instructional standpoint, he said one guidance counselor position is no longer funded….that coming on top of losing two counselors last year.

“We’re cutting positions in my office and elsewhere in order to protect the jobs in our classrooms,” he noted. “Other than that, we’ve left non-instructional jobs vacancies, that have come about through either attrition or transfers, open in order to shift that money to pay for classroom teachers.”

HCPS is asking the county for an additional $240,000 over current year funding.

“We’re asking for that for the children of Hertford County,” Dr. Fahey stressed. “This money could pay for as many as five teachers or as many as eight to nine teacher assistants. As of right now we’ve sent out letters to all our remaining teachers telling them they have a contract (for the next school year) pending the outcome of the budget.”

Dr. Fahey said the investment in HCPS is well worth the money – stressing that the school system met high growth this year, including C.S. Brown High School. He added that a few cosmetic changes to the school buildings have resulted in lower heating and cooling costs, thus saving money.

From an economic development standpoint, Dr. Fahey observed that a strong public school system, with great test scores, makes Hertford County extremely attractive to commercial and industrial growth.

School Board member J. Wendell Hall also addressed the commissioners, as did chairman David Shields.

“The devil is in the details,” Hall said, referencing the fine print included within the state budget. “We don’t know a lot about the final details, but we do know that the near $300 million that the Senate somehow found to put back into education statewide came with a catch – all 115 school districts statewide have to combine to return $124 million in discretionary funding and that comes on top of the $300 million we have to pay back right now.”

Other “devilish” details in the budget, according to Hall, included an additional five instructional days added to the school calendar….“which drives up our transportation costs on top of our transportation budget being cut,” he noted.

“I recognize the predicament you’re in with a countywide budget, you can’t give everything that everybody wants,” Hall continued. “There’s a difference in wants and needs. I can assure you that it’s not a want for Hertford County Schools, it’s a need. Every dollar we’re requesting is needed. We are asking for your support.”

Shields, as a former county commissioner, said he could recall the days when the school board would request, “an astronomical number that was unrealistic.”

“We stopped doing that, we don’t ask for funds that will fatten our budget,” Shields said. “Even with this request for additional funds from the county, we’re still faced with decisions that will cost people their jobs. I’m not trying to throw that back on you, but it hurts us to lay-off people. We’re trying our best to retain our teachers. They’re the ones that make such a big difference in the lives of our young people. We live in a county where many of our children come from poor backgrounds….they need our help, they need our guidance and we have to educate them from K through 12 so that they’ll be ready to better themselves by attending college.”

Last month, Hertford County Manager Loria Williams presented her budget proposal for the upcoming 2011-12 fiscal year. Williams said her proposed $22.38 million budget is built on an 83-cent (per $100 of value) tax rate. The current rate is 91 cents. The tax rate fell due to the revaluation process, which occurs every eight years.

Her proposal reflects current year (level) funding to all outside agencies the county provides financial support, which includes HCPS.  The county school system currently receives $4.17 million in local government funds.

If the HCPS request for added funding is granted in full for 2011-12, it would add nearly two cents to Williams’ proposed new tax rate (one penny generates $132,000).

The county’s fiscal year 2011-12 budget is required to be in place by July 1.

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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