Williams addresses school budget concerns

Published 4:55 pm Friday, April 28, 2023

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GATESVILLE – As officials with Gates County Public Schools go about the budget process for FY 2023-24, several obstacles stand in their way.

The Gates County Index reached out to GCPS Superintendent Dr. Barry Williams to address the rising costs of education coupled with the fact that the local school system is facing a downturn in the number of students it serves and state cutbacks on the number of local teachers.

Williams noted several major impacts on the school system’s budget over the last two years that have generated a need to request more local and state funding.

He said that due to the increase to $15/hour minimum wage, non-certified substitute pay has increased by 41% and certified substitute pay has increased by 27% in the last two years.

Classified position salaries have increased by 6.5% over the same time frame while certified position salaries increased by an average of 2.5% in FY22 and from 2.5% to 7.2% in FY23 depending on years of service.

He added that the retirement contribution rate has increased 2.8% in the last two years. Meanwhile, the annual cost for health insurance has increased by $1,071 per employee in the last two years.

“This is not impacting Gates County Schools, but school districts across North Carolina are dealing with the huge strain the recent state and federal increases are putting on local budgets,” Dr. Williams said.

Then there are financial strains specific only to Gates County Schools.

Williams pointed to reductions in state funding caused by an enrollment decrease of 108 students over the last two years. State funding, he said, was also lost for nearly five teachers. That led to a decision to pay the salaries of three teachers out of the school system’s fund balance.

“From my chair as the Superintendent, fund balance should never be used to pay recurring salaries for those positions,” Dr. Williams stressed. “Three positions that were added in school year 2016-2017 have been paid out of nonrecurring funds which can no longer continue.”

With rising costs and dwindling fund balance, Williams said he and the school board can only hope for more funds from either the state, the county, or both. He said the FY 23-24 Gates County Schools proposed budget was presented in February to the county’s Board of Education and to the county commissioners for their consideration in March.

“At this time, the commissioners have not acted on our budget request but they will make decisions in the near future and we are hopeful that they will be able to fund our 2023-2024 budget request,” Dr. Williams said. “Additionally, the state has not passed the budget for the 2023-2024 school year. We are encouraged and hopeful for the budget package to include additional funding through our small schools funding allotment. I am hearing positive news from the Senate side in terms of getting the scale / levels changed to where we have requested, and in supporting the increase we are requesting we believe there is reason to be optimistic on this side as well.  I have visited several State Senators and they spoke with optimism and confidence the funding request will pass, however we have to be patient.

“The Gates County Board of Education has been transparent about the budget situation for 2023-2024. Again, at this time we are in the middle of the budget process and remain hopeful and encouraged that the state package and the county commissioners will provide the funding needed for the 2023-2024 school year,” Williams concluded.

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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