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RIF looms

WINDSOR – Saying there was little to no other option to take; Bertie County Schools Superintendent Dr. Steven Hill has informed school personnel via a press release and system-wide video on Wednesday that there will have to be a reduction in force in order to meet the current and looming deficits the system is facing.

“We must inform our staff that there is no other option that will eliminate the need for a reduction in force,” Hill remarked in the release. “Because of the size of the current budget gap and the NC Department of Public Instruction (NC DPI) provided budget cuts for 2017-18, each category of employee will have to be considered during the reduction in force (RIF) process.  Please know that as employees retire or resign, every effort will be made to absorb the attrition into the RIF numbers, thus saving jobs.”

The current audit report show Bertie County Schools have a $704,995 budget gap for fiscal year 2015-16 with a projected additional $828,379 gap for the current fiscal year. This approximate $1.5 million projected deficit is compounded by the recent release of NCDPI planned enrollment figures – reducing Bertie’s numbers by 125 students and adding an additional $1.4 million cut to the anticipated 2017-18 budget.

Hill praised his BCS staff for their current work to reduce spending and regain lost funding from state and federal sources.

“Through (staff) efforts the $704,995 can be overcome,” he noted, “but the approximately $2.33 million in cuts must be met.”

Hill’s administrators have been meeting with financial, government and legal representatives in the past weeks at the private, local and state level to investigate avenues to resolve the budget deficit, but the Superintendent stresses it must be done with minimum impact on student learning and staff employment.

“I want to emphasize that while our limited resources will make closing a gap of this size very difficult, we will do so with minimum impact on student learning. Our teachers, principals, support staff, and administrators will remain committed to providing high-quality educational opportunities for our students,” Hill stated.

In the past, the school system sought short-term solutions they now say were merely a ‘band-aid’ that only postponed the BCS situation and often didn’t follow recommended Department of Public Instruction guidelines.

“We are now forced to reconcile many of the budget discrepancies which have magnified the fiscal deficit,” Hill said. “Together we must recognize the challenges for what they are and make fiscally responsible decisions. Without immediate action Bertie County Schools will fail to meet budget mandates and face possible state penalties.”

Since some 75 percent of the school’s budget is salary. Hill says it’s necessary to implement a reduction in force process, but admits that at the same time the schools have not abandoned advocating at the local and state level for adequate funding that Bertie County’s children need.

The Board of Education and the Superintendent still will meet with the County Manager and County Commissioners, who have delayed administering financial assistance pending disclosure of the audit.  Hill is also now calling on the greater Bertie County community to assist in this.

“We will be meeting with county government representatives and hopefully are moving toward a mutual solution,” Hill states. “We will need the partnership of our entire community in joining this effort.”

The superintendent closed his remarks on a buoyant note, emphasizing that no Bertie County Schools students – nor supporters – need feel any aura of neglect will be taken during the times to come.

“I want to assure you we will not work with any less urgency to provide our students the high quality teaching and learning they deserve,” concluded Hill. “While we will not have the resources to accelerate this work, we will prioritize spending in areas we know have potential for the greatest impact on student success.”