Schools face tough budget cuts next year
LINCOLNTON – Lincoln County Schools will ask county leaders for at least an additional $158,000 next school year.
Steve Zickefoose, assistant superintendent for business, told the Board of Education on Monday, April 16, that a state-mandated increase to state employee benefits will cost the school system $158,080. The state will not give the school system more money to pay for that increase, and with no independent source for generating revenue, the schools must choose to make budget cuts or ask for more money from the county.
After years of trimming bits from other parts of the budget, Zickefoose said it’s going to be tough this year to save all classroom positions.
“It’s going to eventually impact personnel. We’ve tried to keep that at an absolute minimum,” he said.
The $158,080 request only addresses the benefits increase. Zickefoose said he expects to need more money for utilities and fuel next year, and the school system could need another $185,000 to cover those costs.
Board Member Tommy Houser wanted to see all those costs passed on to the county.
“I wouldn’t be afraid to ask for what we need for our boys and girls,” Houser said. “(Commissioners) can’t do anything but say no.”
Instead the Budget And Finance Committee Chairman Bob Silver urged other board members to ask county leaders for just the $158,080, with the understanding that the district will return to ask for more once the state General Assembly passes the 2012-13 budget in the summer.
One of the largest unknowns in the budget is the cost for fuel. At the beginning of this school year, Transportation Director Eric Eaker reported the district was paying $3.02 per gallon of diesel fuel. By March that cost had risen to $3.39 per gallon. The state pays for about $2.71 per gallon.
Using roughly 7,500 gallons every eight to 10 days, Eaker said that cost adds up quickly.
“This is one of the areas where you’re going to pay for it,” Zickefoose said. “We will have to look for additional money.”
But without a more concrete estimate of the price of gas, Zickefoose and Silver want to only ask for the known costs upfront and return to the Board of Commissioners with another request after the state passes its budget. The school board approved that recommendation at its Wednesday, April 18, meeting.
Some areas of the state education budget that could cause changes or cuts in Lincoln County include:
• Teaching assistants: Overall the county will have to look at the possibility of eliminating 22 teaching assistant positions. Zickefoose told board members Monday that he’s identified ways to save 10 of those positions, but is still looking for ways to handle the others.
Hoyle said administrators are looking at the possibility of simply not filling positions when some employees retire. If that’s the case, the county will have fewer assistants for classrooms, but none of the current employees would lose a job.
• Children with disabilities: Lincoln County will receive less state money next year to help cover the cost of special needs education.
“We have fewer (disabled) students projected for next year than we have this year,” Zickefoose said. Fewer students means less money from the state – about $89,000 less. Coupled with the employee benefits increase, the department is looking at a shortfall next year of $161,000.
School administrators said they plan to meet with the special needs department to develop a plan.
• Driver education: The state reduced funding to Lincoln County by about $9,000 for the 2012-13 school year. Zickefoose said he’s still looking at options.
“It may come to having to charge for some of those services,” he said. “The state allows us to charge up to $45 per student.”
The county also has a part-time position for driver education, and the hours for that position could be adjusted.
Schools to recognize outstanding employees
Lincoln County Schools will honor Rock Springs Elementary School Principal Rhonda Harrill as Principal of the Year at a reception in May. Harrill’s peers selected her to receive the award.
The district will also announce the Assistant Principal of the Year, Bus Driver of the Year, Classified Employee of the Year, Counselor of the Year, Media Coordinator of the Year, Teacher of the Year and Volunteer of the Year at the reception.