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‘Small County’ school funding under study

Part 1 of a series

What would happen to the schools in the Roanoke-Chowan area if funding that the local counties receive from the state for education was suddenly cut back, on top of already-recent years’ budget cuts?

That’s what one local school district is attempting to find out, following the report released to the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) by its Program Evaluation Division (PED) last week.

Of the seven allotment-specific issues that were presented, the fourth and sixth findings in the list would have the most impact on smaller counties, with Bertie County Schools in particular potentially affected by the fourth one.

The state’s definition of a “small county” may be changing, as the PED’s study results pointed out that most states besides North Carolina provide a subsidy only for counties with fewer than 2,000 ADM (Average Daily Membership, or how many students attend schools within the school district). Currently, North Carolina sets the threshold at 3,200 ADM. It has been proposed that number be lowered to the more “normal” 2,000. If this happens, Bertie County Schools will be in that zone where it has been receiving funds for being a small school district – but at its current 2,330 ADM, they would no longer get those extra dollars.

Hertford County Schools is currently already above the state’s “small county” ADM cap at 3,302 students. Gates and Northampton (1,872 and 1,828 ADM, respectively) would still be below the new 2,000 ADM threshold, if the state takes any action on the study’s findings.

If that happens, any action will not be taken until after the NCGA re-convenes in January. Local schools wouldn’t see any changes in funding allocations until at least the next fiscal year after that, as per normal state law change guidelines.

North Carolina is one of only six other states in the US to operate using a resource-allocation model for funding K-12 education. The others are Washington, Idaho, Tennessee, Alabama, West Virginia and Delaware.

Bertie County Schools (BCS) currently receives the majority of its funding from state allocations or allotments, with $8,424 of about $12,490 that was spent per student during the 2015-2016 school year having come from state coffers.

That’s compared to a statewide average of statewide school districts spending a total of $8,859 per student in the last fiscal year, and only $5,718 of that on average coming from state funding.

Within BCS, about $1.5 million was received from the state this year for being considered a “small county” for the LEA’s current fiscal year out of its total $26.6 million amended budget. That funding allocation comprises about 15 percent of BCS’ total operational income and would be devastating to the school system if taken away, according to BCS Finance Officer Joe Holloway.

“It would cost us tremendously, as even a small reduction would hurt us right now,” Holloway stated.

He added, “It would be hard to say how we would make up the lost revenue, as we are currently paying seven teachers out of that specific allocation. It is devastating to even think about cuts to that particular part of the budget.”

The study that raised this and other questions was conducted at the direction of the NCGA’s Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee in order to examine North Carolina’s system for allotting resources to local education agencies (LEAs). Seven of the current 37 different allotments were flagged by the study as needing changes in order for the education delivery system to be effective and equal statewide.

State funding for the K-12 public education system represents the single largest portion of North Carolina’s General Fund budget, with $8.4 billion going toward public schools in Fiscal Year 2014-2015.